CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden broke ground Tuesday on its biggest-ever construction project: Elephant Trek, a new elephant habitat that will enable the zoo to support a larger-than-ever herd of Asian elephants when it opens in 2024.
Elephant Trek will be “a spectacular five-acre landscape of habitat and gardens with engaging features for humans and animals alike,” according to press materials from the zoo’s $150 million More Home to Roam expansion program. That five-acre span will make the habitat five times the size of the current elephant enclosure, and zoo leaders hope to fill it with a multi-generational herd of Asian elephants.
“Elephant Trek will provide a 24-hour experience that meets the Asian elephant’s complex, daily needs — mentally, socially, behaviorally and physically — supporting a global conservation effort to save this endangered species,” per the latest More Home to Roam update.
But where does a landlocked zoo in the middle of Cincinnati find five spare acres to make it happen? In an existing parking lot. The planned construction of a guest parking garage to compensate for the loss of the lot has been postponed until the zoo reaches pre-COVID-19 attendance numbers.
Zoo director Thane Maynard thanked donors for supporting the More Home to Roam campaign, which has also funded the construction of new kangaroo and penguin habitats since its launch in 2018.
“Donations of all sizes make a difference and mean a lot to us and the elephants,” he said.
The zoo is dedicated to providing an environment in which elephants can participate in natural elephant behavior, such as playing, dusting and bathing, while forming social bonds with one another as they would in the wild.
This project is exceptional, according to the zoo, because many major zoo programs are phasing out their elephant habitats. The Cincinnati Zoo wants to invest in, rather than divest from, its elephant population.
“By creating a bigger space for a bigger herd of elephants to thrive, we are making a big commitment to Asian elephant breeding and conservation that will demonstrate to our visitors the power and beauty of co-existence for animals and humans,” said zoo chair Francie Hilz at the groundbreaking.
The habitat will be eco-friendly, too, according to zoo spokeswoman Michelle Curley: “Elements built into Elephant Trek, including stormwater tanks that will hold 1 million gallons of water, will actually help the zoo reduce expenses and achieve its goal to be net zero by 2025. It also has plans to convert elephant poop, and the rest of the zoo’s organic waste, to a soil supplement that will help it grow the food that the elephants eat.”