The National Elephant Center
The National Elephant Center is an American 501(c)(3) non-profit conservation organization founded by a group of ten directors from zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Once completed in 2013, The National Elephant Center will provide care to African and Asian elephants on a 225-acre (91 ha) site in Fellsmere, Florida. In addition to providing care to animals, it will also contribute research, support and population management to accredited zoos with elephants.
Though not yet accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), The National Elephant Center is a collaborative effort between AZA institutions and will become the center for AZA elephant population management and envisions itself as a world leader in elephant conservation, scientific research and care for elephant populations in zoos and in the wild.
In 2004 the idea of creating a national center for elephants came as the result of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Elephant Management Strategic Planning Meeting involving thought leaders and members of the Elephant Taxon Advisory Group/Species Survival Plan (TAG/SSP). For many years, curators, keepers, veterinarians and others associated with elephants at Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions wanted a facility to provide short- and long-term solutions to help manage the nation’s 290 (approx.) elephants that live at 109 different AZA-accredited facilities.
Following the meeting, dozens of AZA-accredited zoos donated critical funding support to explore options for establishing a Center to serve as a tool in elephant management and conservation.
The National Elephant Center was formally announced in February 2008 at a ceremony held at the Houston Zoo. The Center was expected to break ground in late 2008, with a goal to welcome its first elephants sometime in 2009. The original site was adjacent to property that Waste Management maintains as a natural area certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council that provides food and nesting areas for threatened Florida sandhill cranes and other endangered species. Waste Management was to lease the land to The National Elephant Center for $1 per year for 40 years.
However, it was eventually decided that a site in Fellsmere, Florida was more suitable, and groundbreaking occurred in April 2012. The center's first residents arrived in May 2013, when a family group of two females and two males arrived from Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park. Completion of the initial plan is likely to take up to 10 years.
The National Elephant Center is located on 225 acres (91 ha) in Fellsmere, Florida.
The Elephant Center will feature on-site housing for staff and two barns for Asian and African elephants, each capable of supporting nine animals. The design calls for barns to be connected by a central hub, surrounded by a 10-acre (4.0 ha) habitat that can be subdivided depending on the needs of the elephants.
The largest area of the Elephant Center is the Central Elephant Meander, a 50-acre (20 ha) area that consists of multiple landscapes linked by a series of paths and trails. The area introduces landform and habitat elements from the savannahs and woodlands of the elephants’ home ranges and will contain waterholes, sand dunes, plants and scattered browse.
Elephant population management
As a permanent facility, The National Elephant center will provide:
- Population management support for AZA-accredited zoos, including short- and long-term holding for bull elephants; residency for elephants when their home facilities are being renovated; and residency when herd dynamics change (births, deaths), to test compatibility and new social groupings.
- Centralized training facility and programs for keepers, veterinarians and others to answer an increasing need for a practical, hands-on training in the latest developments in management, nutrition, preventative health care, enrichment, training and research, as well as expertise and facilities for artificial insemination (AI) and breeding.
- Elephant research opportunities, including areas of reproduction, memory, communication, visual acuity, nutritional requirements, pathology of disease and its treatment to aid Asian and African elephant populations.
- Support to advance elephant conservation programs by serving as a resource for elephant experts and facilitating collaborations among the AZA Elephant Taxon Advisory Group/Species Survival Plan, field scientists and researchers, government organizations, and NGOs, such as the International Elephant Foundation.
- Supporting public education of elephants. Studies show that accredited zoo education programs and opportunities for people to see elephants up close and inspire wildlife conservation awareness and action. The Center will become an elephant resource and learning center and develop programs that can help reach the public with important education messages about elephants.
Research and conservation
Research - Wild populations of elephants are increasingly becoming managed due to shrinking habitat, decreasing population dynamics and encroachment by human development. Population management research at The National Elephant Center will provide conservationists with tools and techniques for managing these populations in the wild.
Advocacy – The Center envisions becoming a voice for elephants nationally and internationally through advocacy and collaboration that will speak up for elephants on issues that affect their continued survival.
Education – Though not open to the public, The National Elephant Center will educate school children locally and support formal education programs at accredited zoos throughout the country, which teach millions of visitors each year about elephants and their status in the wild.
Conservation – The Center will provide an important space for research that will assist zoos that aid the Asian and African elephant populations in the wild.
The National Elephant Center will provide leadership and assistance to support the more than 85 elephant research programs that directly address many of the issues affecting elephants in the wild. The Center will also support the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports a wide variety of elephant conservation and related scientific and educational projects worldwide.
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Elephant Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) – AZA Elephants
- Houston Zoo – The National Elephant Center
- AZA Connect – March 2008
- Waste Management – Waste Management Supports Elephant Conservation Initiatives
- Waste News – March 17, 2008
- Waymer, Jim (20 May 2013). "First residents arrive at National Elephant Center in Fellsmere". Florida Today. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
- "National Elephant Center in Fellsmere prepares for construction". veronews.com. Vero News. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
- The National Elephant Center – Site Plans
- The National Elephant Center – Conservation
- The National Elephant Center – Research Programs
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Elephant Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) – Research in Zoos
- International Elephant Foundation