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An Early Look At The National Zoo's Elephant Community Center

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The new Elephant Trails exhibit provides plenty of stimulation for both the Asian elephants, and their young fans.
Armando Trull
The new Elephant Trails exhibit provides plenty of stimulation for both the Asian elephants, and their young fans.

The Smithsonian National Zoo has just completed a seven-year, $56 million state-of-the-art indoor elephant habitat.

Kindergartener Ethan Schipper is roaring like an elephant and recording it — just one of the cool things you can do at the National Zoo's new 4,000 square foot Elephant Community Center.

"It's a great place for elephants to socialize, to eat, to play, to splash around in the wading pool, to just plain hang out," says Marie Galloway, who has cared for elephants at the National Zoo for 26 years.

There are toys that stimulate learning, but some are more sturdy than others, such as a tree set up for Kandela the young male.

"It was designed for him to push on it and it would give," says Galloway. "He kept pushing on it and it gave. So we'll get that set up again later, but that's what it's there for — for him to play and get some of that testosterone out as he pushes and shoves on things."

Zoo Director Dennis Kelly says there are plenty of creature comforts, including elephant showers.

"When they get used to it, they'll come in and activate the showers and give themselves showers," Kelly says. "We even took special care and studied about the best way to keep their overall body conditioning, even their feet."

The zoo has three Asian elephants, but the new center can accommodate as many as 10, says Galloway.

"So we hope to raise a family here of moms and sisters and daughters. And then the young males, who'll have space to gradually separate from the herd if they choose to do so," Galloway says. "We'll have plenty of space for adult males if they want to be more independent."

Visitors can watch the elephants up close and personal from the gallery and if they are lucky, they may hear Shanthi practicing her harmonica.

"This building demonstrates our strong commitment to making sure that Asian elephants are here for future generations." Kelly says.

The Smithsonian's stance against the extinction of elephants includes research into elephant herpes, reproductive health and genetics.

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