Calgary has been saying goodbye to our Asian elephants for the past couple of weeks and our three females, Kamala, Swarna and Maharani, will be moving sometime at the end of this month to the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington D.C. There they will be joining four other Asian elephants in a newly renovated exhibit.
Kamala and Swarna both come to Calgary as orphans from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka in 1976; they were both six to eight months old at the time. Maharani was born at Calgary Zoo on 14 July 1990 to Kamala and a bull called Bandara, who was also an orphan from Pinnawala. Two of their new companions were also at the orphanage, and it seems that their time there overlapped, so how knows, they might remember each other.
The male, Spike, moved to Busch Gardens in Florida last September and has settled in well. Spike came to the Calgary Zoo on loan from Miami Zoo in 1992, when the zoo needed to find a new home after a hurricane hit.
The zoo made the decision to move these fabulous animals for welfare reasons; these animals need to be part of a larger social group and our zoo’s capacity for expansion is very limited due to its location on an island, and therefore bringing in other elephants to provide that social group just wasn’t possible. Additionally, our Calgary weather is not ideal for them and Washington D.C. will provide warmer climes for them.
I, like many others, will be sad to see this species move from the zoo, which has been part of it for the past 40 years, but I am also happy to know that this zoo takes animal welfare serious and wants to ensure that these animals get what they need.
The Asian elephant is the largest terrestrial mammal in Asia. A significant number of adult male Asian elephants don’t actually have tusks. Spike was one of the few lucky ones to have them. However, thanks to Spike being very partial to rough play he broke his left tusk back in 2002. A cap, custom-designed by SAIT Polytechnic’s school of manufacturing and automation, was put over the broken end at the time. In due course his right tusk also broke and another cap was placed, giving him a real bling look. Both caps were replaced in 2010 and again SAIT stepped in together with some Calgary-based companies to fashion the replacement caps.
Wild bulls commonly break or damage their tusks and the cracks can eventually result in fatal infections so these caps were necessary to keep Spike healthy.
The enclosure they currently occupy will be renovated and will eventually house a new species to our zoo; a pair of greater one-horned rhinoceros.
Yes, it is sad to see our elephants leave, but it is for the best and I for one, like so many others, am excited to welcome a new species to Calgary Zoo!