Elephants have long played an important role in the cultural, artistic, and religious heritage of many Asian cultures. For centuries, they have been revered in Thailand, India, China, and Cambodia. Elephants of Asia is designed to increase appreciation, amazement, and wonder for these great animals and to familiarize guests with the challenges Asian elephants face in the wild, including their shrinking natural habitat.
Saving elephants against this backdrop is an uphill struggle, and Elephants of Asia draws attention to their plight and encourages their protection by exposing guests to elephants and the excellent care they receive at the Los Angeles Zoo.
Elephant Plaza serves as the gateway to the new habitat. Life-size metal statues introduce guests to the natural history of Asian elephants. Graphics and sculptures compare and contrast Asian elephants and their African cousins. The gateway serves as the visitor’s first view into the elephants’ habitat with an overlook into the Deep Water Pool, a Gift from Patti & Stanley Silver, which can be used by the elephants for bathing.
In the Thailand area, the Wasserman Family Thai Pavilion educates visitors about the working and unemployed elephants of Thailand. Elephants in Thailand face the challenge of a changing economic climate, which was once heavily dependent upon the labor of elephants. Now these elephants have been replaced by construction equipment, leaving many former working elephants unemployed. The Thailand section of Elephants of Asia features a demonstration yard with a shade structure, an enrichment log where keepers can hide food items, and water-spray fountains. Within the Thai Pavilion, Zoo guests not only learn about the care that elephants receive at the Los Angeles Zoo but also have the opportunity to make a donation, with proceeds going toward in-house elephant program needs.
Behind the Thai Pavilion and located within the center of the exhibit is the Elephant Barn. Modeled after a Thai structure, the barn encompasses 16,600 square feet and provides infrastructure to support the Zoo’s exceptional level of veterinary care and animal husbandry. A specialized ultrasound unit and walk-through articulated sling squeeze ensures keeper and animal safety as the animals undergo medical examinations. Overhead walkways in the elephant barn enable the keeper teams and behavioral researchers to observe the animals without intruding on their natural socialization. The barn is capable of holding up to eleven adult elephants of any age or herd composition including bulls, cows, calves, and aged animals.
The Clayton H. Winthrop Elephants of India Plaza, a gift from the MacDonald Family Foundation, focuses on the impact that fractured forests have on wild elephant populations. Scientists estimate that as many as 10-15,000 elephants live in India, more than any other country in Asia. Despite these numbers, elephants in India are only found in reserves, and their numbers are threatened by habitat loss and human-elephant conflict. The Zoo’s India section features a waterfall that elephants can use to shower themselves. In addition, the rock wall of the waterfall features holes and crevices in which zoo keepers can place food for the elephants to discover and explore.
The Elephants of China, a Gift from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, addresses the decline of elephant populations in China. Despite being a huge nation, China’s elephant population is estimated to be less than 250 individuals restricted to southern Yunnan. The Zoo’s habitat highlights the unique, respectful relationship between elephants and the Dai people of China. The habitat features graphics detailing this relationship as well as a replica of a Dai well. Zoo patrons view the elephants from a boardwalk over a marsh with adjacent habitats for the sarus crane and the Chinese water deer, two additional species of Chinese wildlife. At nearly six feet tall, the sarus crane is the world’s tallest flying bird. The Chinese water deer is a small antler-less deer that has long tusks stemming from the top of its jaw. This shy, solitary species is rarely displayed in zoos.
Guests journey to the Cardamom Mountains in the Fritz B. Burns Foundation Cambodian Pavilion. The pavilion offers sweeping views of the elephant habitat with a view of mountains and forests of Griffith Park in the background. The habitat includes several features dedicated to the elephants including the Elephant Lake, a Gift from the Winnick Family Foundation, an enrichment tree for feeding, and a forested exploration trail. The Cambodian Pavilion tells the story of the elephants that live in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia. These mountains are one of the last wild refuges for elephants in Cambodia. The Los Angeles Zoo has supported conservation efforts within the Cardamom Mountains for the past decade, contributing more than $50,000 toward the goal of addressing the human-elephant conflict within this region. Zoo visitors have the opportunity to directly contribute with proceeds going to various conservation projects in the Cardamom Mountains.
The Los Angeles Zoo’s elephant team plays a vital role in the health and welfare of our animals. The team has a total of over 100 years of combined experience working with animals here at the Zoo.
The design of the habitat makes taking care of the animals much easier than in the Zoo’s former facility. First and foremost, the size of the habitat is much larger than the old enclosure. Other additions have been added for the well-being of the elephants including pools and waterfalls. These water features allow for bathing opportunities that the elephants can choose to initiate.
The habitat’s varied topography provides great terrain for the animals, while over two feet of soft river sand provides a soft substrate for the animals to stand on. The elephant barn is equipped with elephant sized bedrooms and heated floors.
When animal care staff needs to interact with the elephants, they utilize protected contact. Protected contact does not allow Zoo staff to share the same physical space as the elephant, but rather utilizes safety barriers and positive reinforcement to manage the animals.
The Asian elephant is endangered. Elephants have been hunted illegally for their tusks (ivory), and much of their habitat has been destroyed. Scientists estimate that there are 35,000 wild elephants left in Asia. The Los Angeles Zoo has aided Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) efforts to conserve Asian elephants in Cambodia for several years, providing financial support and expertise as they work to secure the future of the native Asian elephant population.
Since 1996, FFI has been working to conserve and protect the Asian elephant population in Cambodia. In 2005, FFI helped establish the Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group (CECG), which strives to find a balance between elephant conservation and economic development in the region, while still preserving traditional cultures.
The Zoo’s contributions to FFI have had a hand in changing the way elephants are treated and dealt with, and has helped preserve their habitat in Cambodia, specifically in the Cardamom Mountains. When you visit the Elephant of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo you will have the opportunity to make a contribution towards the conservation of Asian elephants in Cambodia.
The Art Project at the Los Angeles Zoo takes an artistic approach to celebrating the Elephants of Asia exhibit with the community. Aside from being visually pleasing, the artwork also represents the respective cultures of the countries featured in Elephants of Asia—Cambodia, China, India, and Thailand. It will be installed in the Zoo in the coming weeks.
The Art Project consists of nine beautifully painted fiberglass elephants that lead Zoo patrons up to the habitat. The models stand approximately five and a half feet tall and are located in several locations throughout the Zoo.
The Zoo worked with the City of Los Angeles’ Cultural Affairs Department to locate the amazing artists who represent the different countries and cultures.
Two painted elephant sculptures represent each of the countries. The final elephant is an artistic representation of the Earth’s endangered web of life, depicting animals from all over the world in a variety of environments. We hope that each of these models adds to the exciting experience of the Elephants of Asia habitat!