WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – It’s been 42 years since Stephanie the elephant has been near a herd according to Lauren Ripple, the elephant manager, but just two months ago all of that changed as six new elephants made the trip from Swaziland to Wichita, Kansas. Monday morning, they had one of what is sure to turn into many times in the spotlight.
It was a waiting game Monday morning as the six new elephants prepared to leave their gated areas and head into the five acre open space prepared for them, but once they came out it was clear they were enjoying themselves.
Around the exhibit, equipment could still be heard, saws buzzing and drills putting holes in walls to make the final touches on the areas meant for visitors ahead of the opening, just weeks away.
The work is expected to move quickly and people are buzzing with excitement.
“I think it’s fantastic. This is just so much bigger than their old exhibit was,” said Ron Pugh, “it’s going to be great for the elephants.”
Of the six new elephants, there’s a significant age gap, the youngest being between 6 and 8 years old, the oldest being somewhere between 18 and 20, Stephanie is the oldest of the group of elephants at 44 years old.
Ripple says that arrangement is what’s preferred by the zoo because it models what happens in their day to day life in Africa.
“It’s amazing, I love to see elephants behaving as they would out in the wild and that’s our focus here,” said Ripple, “as much time as possible for them to be in their herds. You want to see that multi-generational herd, that’s what you would see out in the wild.”
Ripple also says the interaction between the new elephants and Stephanie has been promising, showing good bonding within the group.
For now, the elephants spend their time foraging, enjoying the small creek and mud areas behind signs asking people to pardon the work happening on the exhibit. The signs haven’t stopped some zoo goers from trying to peek behind the posts to see how things are going, while others walked the perimeter, hoping for a bit of luck to see one of the new elephants wandering around. Ripple says it’s no surprise that people are eager to take a look, “they’re just special, special animals to work with…to me, they’re like old souls.”
The Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit is scheduled to open to the public at 10 a.m. on May 27th.