by Eric Calder
By summer’s end, elephants of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo will be living even larger. That’s when Phase One of the Encounter Africa exhibit will have produced a new elephant barn, and donors and the media were invited to take an early look Wednesday.
The new barn will be two-thirds the length of a football field, about three times larger than the three elephants’ current pad. The barn will be outfitted with 300,000 square feet of sand that elephants can dust themselves and lie down in, working winches and hoists that will allow zookeepers to create different feed opportunities, and an elephant-operated shower with shallow pool.
“I think what we’ve done now is it’s going to a bigger super-sized scale. They certainly have a lot of these features in the old barn but it’s on a smaller scale,” says the zoo’s elephant manager, Jason Bredahl.
“What we’re looking to create for the elephants is daily variety, complexity, and choices that achieve natural behaviors, prolonged activity and enriched life for elephants so that’s kind of our mantra that we’re living by.”
Phase 2, to be completed in spring 2012, will allocate 2.8 acres of “Vacation Yard” for the elephants to roam throughout the natural wooded habitat. “Everyone needs a vacation,” public relations manager Katie Borremans says.
Imagine a herd of elephants wandering the hallowed (and in parts hollowed) Cheyenne mountainside. Bredahl explains, “We definitely don’t know what that will look like, but elephants certainly are capable of knocking down trees, and there are certainly quite a few pine trees out there and some other species. Our goal is to make that sure we can maintain the natural habitat and allow them to have a novel experience when they do go out there.”
There's an “Elephant Track” as part of Encounter Africa’s second phase that keepers also hope will enrich the animals’ lives.
Bredahl says, “It’ll create distances that they’re going to move through, on a path that’s created behind the building that kind of winds back around to the exhibit, and allow us to get some actual physical exercise and just pure movement and distance from them.”
The current elephant barn will be torn down once the first phase of the project is complete. The zoo will receive its fourth elephant at a yet-to-be-determined time in the future, courtesy of a donor.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo President and CEO Bob Chastain was the sole speaker at Wednesday’s event. He said, “We started silently a $13.5 million capital campaign project about a year ago. We're at a point right now where we’ve raised about $10 million and we’d like to be able to do a couple things — thank our donors who have contributed and sort of kick off the announcement to the public that we are raising money.”
“There’s about 220 accredited zoos in the country," he said, "and of those, only 10 don’t receive any tax support whatsoever. (Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of the 10.) So this is 100 percent raised from the community, mostly from individuals and foundations.”
The Encounter Africa site plan was cut into puzzle pieces.
Katie Borremans tells of one way the zoo is fundraising on-site for the elephants …
“When you make a purchase at the Grizzly Grill or the gift shop you can round up for the elephants. So if your purchase is for $2.23 you can round it up to three dollars and that money will go towards the project.” Or, why not round up to a cool thousand?
... and another way:
“A man makes planter pots out of elephant poo and then he sells them to raise money for the elephants. They’re really neat. Most of the time when the poo comes out it’s just in a little pile, but sometimes when it comes out it will be in this bowlish shape. It’s like round and tall, so he’ll hollow it out, shellack it, dry it, and put a plant in there.”
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