ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) — The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance announced Thursday construction of a new "Elephant Valley" exhibit is underway. The alliance says this is the largest project since the park opened in 1973.
The Denny Sanford Elephant Valley will transform the Safari Park's core, modifying the current elephant area into a "dynamic savanna and a place of exploration." Once completed, all guests will have the rare opportunity to connect with elephants in a brand new way, fostering a deeper awe for the already impressive species.
The park expects to complete the ambitious project in 2025; however, the press release did not specify which month or season it will open.
Paul A. Baribault, the alliance's president and CEO, described the vision for the project as "a first-of-its-kind immersive experience" that will shed new light on the conservation efforts for elephant populations worldwide.
“Elephant Valley could not be achieved without the incredible community, donors, members and allies who support us and make all our conservation work possible with partners around the world,” Baribault says.
As the name suggests, the Elephant Valley will be surrounded by the massive creatures on multiple sides. Guests will also get to view elephants from above as they cross an overhead walkway above the herd.
The alliance described elephants as "ecosystem engineers" in its press release, and it also pointed out the species has complex social dynamics.
Vibrant cultures and communities that coexist with elephants will be highlighted in the exhibit, evidence of the alliance's collaboration with partners overseas, the release says.
The #1 spot for guests at the new exhibit will be the valley's two-story lodge, which mimics tourist locations travelers flock to while going on safaris in Africa. Educators will share their knowledge with guests at the gathering place as elephants meander their way to the large watering holes.
The safari park hired top-tier arborists and horticulture experts to recreate the African grasslands, capturing the authentic smells, sights and sounds of the ecosystem.
The expansive habitat will provide the elephants with seasonal variations replicating how the savanna changes throughout the year.
Lisa Peterson, the safari park's executive director, says the elephants' future is cloudy and fragile. The conservation effort is one of the park's top priorities to keep the magnificent species around for the long term.
“We are honored to take millions of wildlife allies on a journey into the life of elephants, where they will learn about the positive impact everyone can have, and share in our hope for elephants worldwide," she says. "Elephant Valley will be a place where curiosity turns into discovery—where anyone from ages 1 to 100 will experience breathtaking moments of wonder in nature. Our hope is that the defining memories you make here stay with you for a lifetime.”
Elephant populations are threatened by climate change, habitat loss, poaching and challenges with coexisting with humans, the release says.
The African Savanna Elephany species is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.
The safari park works with the following organizations for elephant conservation:
- Save the Elephants
- The Nature Conservancy
- Northern Rangelands Trust
- Kenya Wildlife Service
- Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Kenya
In order to better understand the animal, scientific studies of elephant herds are conducted at the zoo, safari park and in Africa, helping scientists develop more conservation solutions.
“Elephants across Africa are facing immense challenges, which require all of us to collaborate and find sustainable conservation solutions for elephants and people,” says Nadine Lamberski, chief conservation and wildlife health officer for the alliance. “We are eager to witness the impact Elephant Valley will have on our continued elephant conservation efforts globally.”
Thousands of donors funded the Elephant Valley, and Denny Sanford was a major supporter, the release says. Sanford was also the lead donor for the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the San Diego Zoo, as well as the "San Diego Zoo Wildlife Explorers" educational TV program shown at hundreds of children's hospitals.
If you'd like to donate yourself, or learn more about the new habitat, follow this link.