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Elephant Update

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a year since Simunye, Titan, Arusi, Xolani, Zuberi and Talia arrived safely in Wichita! We thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the exciting things that have happened in the herd over the last year.

Weighing In
Within the first week, all the elephants voluntarily walked onto the new scale. This was a surprising development as the animal care staff did not believe they would so readily walk through the chute that houses the scale. The elephants, while initially wary of their new surroundings, were relatively fearless and willing to explore their new home. The elephants were in less than ideal body condition when they arrived and, now that a year has passed, everyone is pleased with their weight gain and current body conditions.

Losing Teeth
In the year since the elephants arrived, the animal care staff has found parts of at least six teeth. This is normal; elephants “grow” six sets of teeth in their lifetime. New teeth slowly work their way to the front as the older teeth wear down and fall out. Each set of teeth comes in larger than the last. From the size of the teeth, the animal care staff believes that they came from some of the younger elephants. No worries though, the new teeth follow the old ones quickly.

Who me?
Within a month of arrival, all elephants recognized their names. It’s pretty amazing to hear the keepers call each elephant by name and see them turn and come running!

Becoming a Herd

Within two months of arriving, Stephanie was observed behaving as if she wanted to interact with the younger elephants. She started spending more and more time standing near them. She would often grab her hay and take it down the fence line as close to the other elephants as possible.

Sleep Tight
For the first time, staff was able to observe the sleep patterns of the herd via the new monitoring system. They discovered:
       • The juveniles sleep about five hours a night each.
       • Simunye was observed to be sleeping lying down, about two hours a night.
         She now sleeps about four hours a night.
       • Stephanie sleeps about four hours each night.

Time to Learn
Training for foot care began early on and was the herds’ first lesson. Most of the elephants were associating the word “foot” by touching a training target. The animal care staff uses this process to ask the elephants lift their feet up and rest it on a “foot bar” for inspection. Great progress was made towards this end within two months. Foot care training allows animal care staff to gain access to the elephants’ nails and pads for cleaning (think pedicure) and checking the condition of each foot. The elephants are never forced to do this and do it voluntarily.

The Big Day!
Stephanie was introduced for the first time to Arusi, Titan, Zuberi, Xolani and Talia on Monday, June 6th. Arusi and Zuberi were out in the habitat and Stephanie was sent out to join them. While they all took notice of each other and after a few minutes it seemed much ado about nothing and they began to forage together in close proximity. This went so well that Xolani, Talia, and Titan were allowed to join them. Almost immediately, Stephanie behaved like a matriarch. She was very gentle and kind with the juveniles. This initial introduction went so well that they stayed together all day.

Everybody In!
Well, almost everyone. Zuberi, Arusi, and Titan went swimming in the canal with Stephanie in the lead. Stephanie walked in about chest deep and the others followed her in. Zuberi appeared to be actually swimming, as she bobbed up and down, without touching the bottom. Arusi and Titan dunked themselves under water several times. This may have been the first time these elephants had ever had the opportunity to completely submerge themselves underwater in their lives.

New Lesson
“Trunk training” sessions began in June. This behavior is taught so the elephant will hold his or her trunk out and allow the keepers to touch it. This behavior helps them participate in their own healthcare by creating a thread of actions that will eventually lead to the elephants allowing veterinarians to test for tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a disease that humans have that elephants can get. Testing both the animal care staff and the elephants protects everyone.

One More Makes Seven!
A little over a month after Stephanie was introduced to the juveniles, it was time for her to meet Simunye. Things couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Simunye looked to Stephanie as the most dominant and recognized that she was the herd matriarch. As both elephants became more accustomed to each other, additional elephants were added until all seven were spending time together as one herd!

Animal care staff observed continual positive direction in the social behaviors exhibited by all of the elephants. They rumbled greetings more often when approaching each other and all the elephants became more tactile with one another. Extending trunks into another elephant’s mouth became increasingly frequent and the elephants spent more time resting their trunks on one another. The herd was often seen taking an afternoon nap together underneath the trees and mud bathing communally.

Still in School
Another layer of learning was added to training time in August. The elephants began learning to present their ears through a special ear portal in the training area. This allows staff to draw blood easily and with little stress to the elephants.

By October, all five juveniles were presenting both front feet out of foot port on the first bar! All but one was allowing their nails and pads to be dry scrubbed on both feet! This was an amazing feat given that they had only been in training for a little over 6 months!

Holiday Traditions
Stephanie was able to share in a holiday tradition – a Thanksgiving Feast! The majority of the food served in the feast was from their normal daily diet the animal care staff presented in a different fashion (with a few tasty surprises). The herd really enjoyed their tasty meal!

Christmas day was spent wallowing in the mud and taking a little swim. The temperatures this winter have been wonderful for the elephants, but the animal care staff was definitely surprised to see them in a pool on Christmas Day.

A Great Start to New Year
By the beginning of the new year, six elephants were allowing the animal care staff to scrub their front feet with warm water, trim their pads and file their nails and they love to get warm baths and having their bodies brushed with a long scrub brush. They are all are presenting their ears through the port and are very close to allowing the staff to draw blood.

The levels of play and social activities have continually increased. Titan, Arusi, and Zuberi are often seen play sparring. Talia joins in most of the time and Xolani has just started to get into the act. Even Simunye is now sparring with Zuberi and Titan.

They are social with almost everything they do. They eat, wallow, swim, and forage together. They are always moving together as a herd. It has been an emotional year for elephants and zoo staff alike. The elephants adapted much quicker than we had expected and we are confident the elephants will live fulfilled lives in their new home. The story does not end at one year. There will be more stories to come and more tales to tell. The elephants have become a part of the fabric of the zoo and the community and we pledge that we will do all that we can to provide the elephants with the best care possible and to provide them the opportunity to behave as nature intended.


Another Baby in the Gorilla Family

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, February 22 Sedgwick County Zoo staff welcomed a second lowland gorilla baby. This is the second gorilla birth at the Zoo and the first baby born to Kigali, 22 and Matt, 23.

The baby has been observed nursing; it is clinging well and looks strong. The gorilla family group, including Matt, Kivu, Barika and Alika, will remain in the behind-the-scenes areas until the gorilla care staff are confident that the baby is healthy, strong and ready for all the excitement that comes with a public debut.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP)® for gorillas recommended the formation of a breeding family group at the Sedgwick County Zoo. Lowland gorillas are a critically endangered species due to habitat destruction, big game hunting and poaching. This species can be found African countries of Cameroon, People’s Republic of Congo, Gabon, Central African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea.


Welcome Baby Gorilla!

In the late hours of Wednesday, August 3 Sedgwick County Zoo staff welcomed a lowland gorilla baby into the world. This is the first gorilla birth at the Zoo and the first baby born to Barika, 15 and Matt, 23. The gender of the baby is unknown at this time.

Staff has observed the baby nursing, it is clinging well and looks strong. The gorilla family group, including Matt, Kivu and Kiagli, will remain in the behind-the-scenes areas until the gorilla care staff are confident that the baby is healthy, strong and ready for all the excitement that comes with a public debut.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP)® for gorillas recommended the formation of a breeding family group at the Sedgwick County Zoo. Lowland gorillas are a critically endangered species due to habitat destruction, big game hunting and poaching. This species can be found African countries of Cameroon, People’s Republic of Congo, Gabon, Central African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea.

More updates to come.


Look Who's Outside Exploring!

Yes, that’s Stephanie!
You may catch a glimpse of her out and about in the coming weeks. Not only has she been roaming around the yard, but she’s even tested out the new splash pool in the north yard!

It will still be a little while before our new residents have a turn at exploring the large yards. They will first start with getting accustomed to the behind-the-scenes yards.


New Elephants Update

All six of the elephants (one male and five females) have settled in nicely. They are all eating and drinking well. The keeper staff has also been providing them tree branches and logs, in addition to their regular diet. The elephants are really gobbling them up! They strip the bark off the larger logs and snack on the small branches too!

For now the keeper staff is focused on learning as much as they can about the elephants and their personalities. We want to take care not to rush the elephants as they learn where things are in their new home. Keeper staff will take it one step at a time. Right now those first steps are making sure they continue to become familiar with their new home, learn to recognize their caretakers and settle into a routine. The new residents are already transferring from one part of the barn to the other with ease.

Many of you have also asked about Stephanie. She is doing well and adjusting to the new arrivals. As you can imagine, there was a little uncertainty at first, but now everyone seems to be very relaxed. Stephanie currently can see, hear and smell them in the rooms next to her and they have some indirect contact with each other.

We'll have another update and more pictures for you soon!


They Have Arrived!

Seventeen African elephants arrived from drought-stricken Swaziland as part of an ongoing rescue mission to provide safe haven and a more secure future at three accredited zoos in Dallas; Wichita, Kan.; and Omaha, Neb.

New construction and renovation at Dallas Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and your Sedgwick County Zoo, informed by the latest scientific findings on elephant welfare, have created three state-of-the-art habitats to meet each elephant’s complex physical, mental and social needs in multigenerational herds. Five elephants will make their home in Dallas, and groups of six each in Wichita and Omaha. (March 11, 2016)

First photo of three of our new females. - 3/11/2016

Why These Elephants?
Swaziland, a small landlocked country in southern Africa roughly the size of New Jersey, has no other space for the elephants that were damaging the parks by changing forests into barren landscapes.

Destroying ancient trees and brush as they eat their way across the plains, the parks’ elephants consume sparse vegetation faster than it can naturally regenerate. This altered the land and threw resources out of balance, which negatively affected other mammal and bird species in the parks.

Since establishing its first wildlife sanctuary in 1964, Swaziland has been guided by longstanding wildlife management plans created by local conservationists and park officials who aim to restore the parks to a balanced, sustainable state. Although Swaziland’s parks are too small to support large elephant herds, plans identify the parks as ideal settings for a significant rhino conservation effort.

Making Room for Rhinos
While about 20 elephants will remain at the parks as symbols of Swaziland’s rich natural heritage, the current elephant population is too large, leaving elephants in need of a new home and a safe future, a role the three accredited zoos can provide.

Once the most abundant of all rhino species, black rhinos are critically endangered and considered at great risk of extinction due to poaching for their horns. Black rhinos, and southern white rhinos, can live side by side because they do not compete for food—one browses and the other grazes. Both species need protected habitats and both are expected to thrive in the Swazi parks because they do not outstrip the land. The parks’ protected boundaries can also provide critical safety and space to support large numbers.

Visit for more information.


A New Face in the Family

Kigali (pronounced “Key-gal-ee”) is the newest female Western Lowland Gorilla to call the Sedgwick County Zoo home. Kigali is nineteen years old and was born at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She can be distinguished from Kivu by her smaller size and darker hair. Since everything in Wichita is new for her, she can best be described as curious. Kigali enjoys interacting with keepers and happily participates in training sessions. She is also quite the looker and everyone has noticed. As the other boy gorillas see her, a few have become infatuated with her. Even going so far as to park themselves where they can see her clearly and not go where keepers need them to. Matt is not so fond of other boys looking at his ladies but we are confident that with time, everyone will adjust and things will go back to normal.

Kigali arrived in Wichita on October 17th. Her transfer was part of a Species Survival Plan recommendation. Senior keeper of gorillas, Danielle, went out to D.C. about a week before the move to get to know Kigali. Then on October 15th, Kigali, Danielle and a keeper from the National Zoo loaded up into a special moving trailer and started the long journey.
She was brought straight to the gorilla building and immediately began her 30 day quarantine period. Kigali has been with her natal, or family, group since she was born. So this was her first big trip away from home. Keepers started acclimating her to the routine from the very beginning, as is normal anytime a gorilla is new to the area. We wanted to accomplish this slowly since everything was new to her. And like the champ she is, Kigali, or Kigs as the keepers call her, did great.
After she was clear of quarantine, we began to introduce her to the rest of the gorilla building and the other gorillas that would become her new family. Her first introduction was to Kivu, the first female gorilla to come to the Zoo. Up until this point there had always been a solid barrier between them. Then a part of the door was taken down and they had contact with the mesh barrier in between them. Zookeepers call this a “howdy” introduction. Kigali went immediately to the door to greet Kivu. She definitely missed being around other gorillas. Kivu was slightly more aloof but not completely disinterested. Kivu had some moving experience already, so we were confident that she would help Kigali adjust once they had full contact, which was definitely the case. When they were finally given full access to one another, Kigali’s first action was to go over and hug Kivu. Unfortunately for her, Kivu wasn’t quite that interested in being best friends yet. Kivu tolerated Kigali in her space as long as she stayed approximately arm’s length away. Keepers expected Kigali to push Kivu around some; so to have pretty much the opposite occur was surprising. Overall, it was still considered very successful. After about two days the girls were together permanently and it was decided to introduce Matt.

Introducing a family group is slightly different than introducing girls or even bachelor males. This is Matt’s first time being the silverback in a family group. Because Kigali is younger, a little more agile and louder than Kivu, her introduction with Matt was a little tenser. There was some yelling and chasing. As expected, Kivu did come to Kigali’s defense. It was great to see the girls had bonded so well. These are all very normal reactions during gorilla introductions. Matt has to exert himself as the silverback and let the girls know he’s in charge; or that they at least let him think he is. The yelling only really occurred on the first day of introductions with Matt. With each subsequent day of intros, the group became more confident with one another. Once keepers were sure of the bond the girls had and that the group’s confidence level was high, the determination was made to leave them together overnight. A calm, quiet night is a sure sign that a family’s bond has been established. A direct quote from the night keeper watching over them, “I saw Kigali sleeping in a hammock for the first time since she arrived.” Kigali’s normal nest spot had been up in one of the transfer chutes that lead from room to room. This definitely told us all was well with Matt’s new family.

The next step for the new family was to let them out to the exhibits. Matt and Kivu had been kept inside since Kigali’s arrival so they could get to know each other. Because Kigali hadn’t seen the indoor exhibit at all; we thought it would be best to give the girls a chance to go out first. However, the group’s bond was stronger than we thought and the girls would not leave the house without Matt. So we gave Matt access to his girls again and after about 15 minutes of not being certain of her new playground, Kigali was out and exploring! We closed the door and the family spent the whole day relaxing and enjoying the treats the keepers had put out on exhibit for them.

Matt, Kivu and Kigali will be kept on the indoor exhibit for the next several days to allow Kigali more time to become familiar with it. After that, we will go back to the normal routine of rotating the different gorilla groups through the exhibits. The entire team at The Downing Gorilla Forest is very excited because our family group is doing so well! The keepers are asked frequently when we can expect babies. The answer to that is: with time. Kigali still needs to be introduced to the outside exhibit and get more comfortable with a normal rotating routine. Our hope is that as things settle, nature will take its course. We promise to keep everyone posted. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to come out and meet Kigali and see the family together.


Non-Public Day Room

When visiting The Downing Gorilla Forest you may notice that you only see two of our four groups of gorillas on exhibit. This is because one of our exhibits, refered to as the non-public day room, is an off-exhibit area. Each group of gorillas is rotated through each exhibit space on a daily basis. This mimics their natural behavior since gorillas do not usually use the same nesting area each night.

There are many benefits to having an off-exhibit area. First, this room gives each group of gorillas a break from all the attention and gives keeper staff the option to place a specific group off-exhibit if we feel it will benefit them. Second, this exhibit doubles as our fun room. This gives us the opportunity to give enrichment items we wouldn’t normally place on public exhibits, like little tyke play sets, colorful barrels, and large boxes. Finally, this exhibit allows new animal introductions to take place in a more controlled setting while allowing the other groups to be on exhibit and unaffected.

Entry by: Ashley, Zookeeper

Hours of Operation
Summer8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
(March – October)
Winter10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
(November – February)
*The Zoo will be closed one day only, September 8, 2018 to facilitate the preparation of the annual Zoo fundraiser, Zoobilee.