Elephants roaming over a five-acre tract of land provides the crown jewel at the African Grasslands exhibit at Omaha’s zoo. Visitors enjoy watching the giant animals. The elephants arrived at the zoo in 2016. The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium had been without an elephant since 2011, after sending its last one to the Cleveland zoo following the unexpected death of its partner in 2010. Elephants are social creatures and don’t usually survive a solitary lifestyle.
Omaha’s African Grasslands provide the elephants and other animals an opportunity to meander around open areas. The grasslands started the zoo’s move to a more natural environment for animals, rather than having them assigned per species, such as when lions were located at the cat complex. Now, the lions, as well as cheetahs, can stroll in an area more conducive to the African wild.
When news broke that the zoo was going to create the African Grasslands, officials announced that elephants would return to Omaha and be a large part of the new area. Henry Doorly officials raised about $73 million for the project. It puts the zoo on par with others developing similar attractions.
Omaha joined with the Dallas and Wichita zoos in bringing a group of 17 elephants to the United States. Drought conditions in Swaziland threatened the elephants’ lives. Officials in that country believed they would have to destroy the elephants in order to protect a group of endangered rhinos, because there wasn’t enough food available for all the animals. Fortunately, the American zoos stepped in and were able to save the elephants. Of course, that meant relocating them to the United States.
After overcoming several challenges, the elephants made their way to the US. Omaha received six elephants. Their arrival was big news. Lisa and I can recall watching each of the trucks transporting the elephants from the airport to the zoo receive a police escort down 10th Street.
After a year at the zoo, the elephants seem to have adjusted well to their new environment. The zoo brought in a younger male elephant from Toledo to help with reproduction plans. Unfortunately, Warren, one of the original elephants, died from an infected tooth.
Popular with visitors
The elephants attract many visitors. People move about to get the best angle to watch the pachyderms during their daily routine. Since they have five acres – the largest such area in North America for elephants – the elephants have the luxury of moving about freely.
I enjoy watching them eat. Their trunks grabbing hay or even small branches. I heard a crack and saw one break a branch with its trunk and start eating it. It’s a learning experience observing Omaha’s elephants.
While it’s fun to spend time watching the elephants at work and play, the African Grasslands offer more sightseeing. A baby giraffe joined the fold earlier this year, so it was fun to watch him interact with the others. The giraffes are another group that has benefited from more space to traipse about.
The klipspringer is always enjoyable to watch. The small antelope moves easily around the kopje (rocky area) in the grasslands exhibit. I believe the klipspringer has the prettiest eyes of all animals.
The African Grasslands also feature Impala, ostriches, pink-backed pelicans, ducks and zebras (though they were not out during our visit).
In addition, Mammoth Plaza features the elephant’s ancestors. The display features a 14-foot tall statue of Archie, the world’s largest fossil of a Columbian Mammoth. Mammoths and mastodons once roamed Nebraska several thousands of years ago.
We enjoyed our visit to watch the elephants and tour the African Grasslands exhibit. The exhibit is world-class, and a great example of the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium’s impressive expansion, helping to keep its ranking as one of the top American zoos.
For more information on the zoo’s attractions and plans, please visit www.omahazoo.com.