By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 3, 2008
The Asian elephants at the National Zoo have it nice. Every morning they get bathed and scrubbed. They often get pedicures, and step up on the scale to have their weight checked. Then they go outside to the oohs and ahhs of the adoring public.
Now life is about to get even better. In March, the zoo began work on a $60 million renovation of its elephant complex, announced two years ago, that will transform it into a state-of-the-art sanctuary called Elephant Trails.
The 1930s-era elephant house will be redesigned to include, among other things, a barn, adjustable stalls and an elephant "community center" where the zoo says elephants will be able to hang out together all day instead of being kept in separate enclosures at night. There will also be a separate calving area and soft, heated, sandy floors.
Outside, there will be 3.5 acres of pools and sand piles in three habitats where the elephants can play, and an 800-foot-long walking trail where they can get their exercise and forage for food. Plans also call for special rubbing logs, a salt lick and a grazing meadow.
There will be outdoor areas that will be shaded for summer, and others that will be warmed with heated steel canopies for winter, so the elephants can go outside year round.
All of this will make room for a matriarchal herd of eight to 10 adult female elephants, their offspring, and individual males, the zoo said. The zoo has three elephants, two females and a young male, living on a site that is less than an acre. Zoo officials said they are not sure where they will get the new elephants.
The zoo will boost its Asian elephant program, Director John Berry said, because the animals are endangered in the wild, where only about 30,000 survive. Preservationists fear they could become extinct.
The Elephant Trails project is scheduled to be finished by 2011.