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Milwaukee County Zoo Adding 3rd Elephant

Addition Fulfills National Requirement For Herd Size

Belle the elephant
Belle, a 38-year-old African elephant is moving to the Milwaukee County Zoo. Courtesy of the Milwaukee County Zoo

The Milwaukee County Zoo will add a third African elephant to its herd.

Belle is being transferred from the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in South Carolina to join long-time residents Ruth and Brittany. The addition fills the zoo’s requirement by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ new guidelines to hold a minimum of three elephants. It also gives Belle a place to retire.

“Elephants are very social animals so having some companionship is very important for their psychological well-being and health,” said Gary Lunsford, the zoo’s director of animal management and health.

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Until recently, the Milwaukee County Zoo didn’t have the space for three elephants. In May, the zoo opened its Adventure Africa Exhibit, which is large enough to accommodate five elephants.

The $16.6 million, 1.6-acre outdoor habitat features a watering hole able to accommodate three fully-submerged elephants, feeding and enrichment walls, shade structures and self-activating shower.

“We are excited at just the thought of more elephants in the new exhibit, and are anxious for Belle to join Ruth and Brittany,” said zoo director Chuck Wikenhauser.

All three of the elephants are 38 years old. Lundsford said the average life span in captivity is 38.6 years. However, some elephants can live to be up to 50 years old.

“If we were to find a younger female to go in with our girls, we would certainly consider that option,” Lundsford said. “With our older females we have here, we figure that is a really great way to specialize.”

There are no current plans to add a male elephant at the zoo, Lundsford said.

Belle is being transferred because her current zoo is preparing for the re-introduction of southern white rhinoceros to its population and there is no longer room for her.

“The Milwaukee County Zoo was the right option and the right decision for Belle’s needs, to thrive and live out her life,” Wikenhauser said.

“We know how to take care of elephants that are getting along in age, and I think that’s a real service we can provide to these animals, and a responsibility we don’t take lightly,” said Wikenhauser. “We understand this is a bittersweet departure for visitors and staff at Riverbanks Zoo, but can assure them that Belle will receive excellent care, and continue to lead a full, active and enriched life here.”

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