San Diego Zoo's Elephant Odyssey

logo_elephant_odysseyIn May of this year, San Diego Zoo opened it's complex Elephant Odyssey.  Incorporating a plethora of animal species revolving around the idea of extinction in California, the new exhibit zone presents a unique organizing element rarely seen in zoos: an abstract idea rather than biogeographic or Linnean systematics.  Animals as diverse as African lions, Californian condors, and South American capybaras find homes in the Elephant Odyssey, and although the cerebral organizing element is unique, it remains to be seen if it is successful.  Let me break it down for you: California used to have a wide range of animals living on her land, but over time these species have become extinct.  However, sister species still exist elsewhere in the world, and here they are with graphic panels and sculptural representations of the now extinct counterpart.  Its strangeness may actually work to help make the story more clear--perhaps this jumble of seemingly unrelated animals will make people curious enough to actually read the panels for more information, and finally, the guests may walk away understanding a complex storyline related to their zoo experience.  But, maybe I'm overly optimistic.

eo elephant

From the photos I've seen, the Zoo decided to keep naturalism at a minimum, giving the place a clearly sterile, mechanized and utilitarian quality.  Of course, the exhibit is brand new and thus vegetation has not had a chance to grow in, but the prominence and visibility of barriers and other steely cold elements leads me to believe no amount of vegetation will ever create a natural environment throughout the Odyssey exhibits.  Perhaps the Zoo should've deleted a few species to subsidize a softer, more comfortable experience.

The Stats:

  • $45 million for entire exhibit area
  • 7.5 acres total
  • 35 species of animals
  • 2.4 acres of elephant habitat (including 137,000 gallon pool with 7.5' deep end)
  • 7 elephants (1 African, 6 Asian, including one bull)
  • Brand new on-exhibit elephant care facility
  • Restaurant overlooking the elephants
  • Gift shop

Not sure if the $45 million also included their amazing exhibit website, but check it out here for more information.

elephant odyssey

More Elephant Controversy...

As I've posted in the past, elephants at zoos have been the target of much controversy in the recent years.   Dallas Zoo recently fought public outcry to keep their lone elephant, and Chicago residents have been fighting to essentially outlaw elephants in captivity within the city limits. 

Billy in his current home

Now, the Zoo has announced it will continue the exhibit construction, against dissenting opinions.  It will become one of the over 60 zoos in the country to make the decision to keep their elephants, renovating their current exhibits or adding entirely new ones.

The new exhibit will be world class, promises the Zoo.  At over 3 acres of animal space, it would be one of the largest in the nation.   The Zoo plans on adding 3 females to make a 4 animal herd. 

New exhibit plans

Now, Los Angeles joins the spotlight, as the Zoo here has decided to keep its lone bull elephant, Billy.  Due to the star-studded cast of  outspoken animal activists, the Zoo halted construction on the elephant's new enclosure in order to re-evaluate its plans, and to hear dissenting opinions.  At the stoppage, approximately 30% of the project was complete.

Good luck to all involved in this brave project!

Little Rock Zoo Loses Elephant Expansion Option

Little Rock Zoo, a measly 33 acres and bounded by urban land, recently lost its most viable option for expansion when the city decided to donate an empty stadium and its lot, not to the zoo as expected, but to the hospital.


Click HERE for video coverage

Little Rock Zoo is one of the few zoos in the country keeping elephants in their collections.  The land was to be used by the Zoo as an expansion to their current exhibit, in an effort to meet AZA requirements for keeping elephants. 

The requirements state that institutions holding elephants must keep at least three females in a group, and are recommending institutions have the ability to be used for breeding.  This means the Zoo would have to increase its size for at least one additional animal, as they currently have two females, and, if following the breeding route, would have to add space for at least one male.  All of this would also include increasing the safety and security of the current exhibit to bring it up to standards for housing bull elephants.  The Zoo estimated, rather loosely, that this project would cost between $10 and 20 million. 

One of the Zoo's two elephants.

Now that the stadium land option is gone, the Zoo intends to hear additional options for expansion, which includes crossing the highway passing along its southern border.  The future of the Little Rock Zoo remains to be seen, however, as pressure from the state capitol is pushing to move the zoo outside of the city proper, and the mayor is considering cutting the budget by $2 million. 

Here is a very good article about the history of the zoo, and its potential future.

NC Zoo Opens Expanded Elephant Yard

Like Polar Bears, Elephants have been a hot topic for zoos in the recent past. Animal activists have started coming to the forefront, making alliances and friends of folks in power. In extreme cases, like the city of Chicago, pending legislation prohibits elephants to be kept in captivity, unless the institution meets unrealistic standards. In the case of Chicago, the new city ordinance would require 10 acres per elephant, of which, 5 acres are indoor.  These requirements are intended to drive zoos and circuses out of the elephant business.  As misguided as this ordinance seems (although I do agree with opposition to circuses), strong public support makes this type of legislation feasible, not only in local municipalities, but could, some day, reach national levels. 

North Carolina ZooTo help avoid the critical eye of animal activists such as Save the Wild Elephants, whose aim is strategically placed on zoos across the country, North Carolina Zoo recently opened an expansion to their already massive mixed species African plains exhibit, now called "Watani Grassland Reserve." 

In addition to the added space, the exhibit incorporates art and graphics as a means of learning throughout.  The exhibit added up close views of elephant pools, and the experience is intended to be passive and exploratory, with thousands of feet of meandering trails.  Vistas across open grassy plains are the norm here, and visitors are easily immersed in the idea of being on safari.

I'm curious if this massive exhibit would meet the Chicago legislation, as this exhibit is surely the largest and most responsible habitat out there.  Watch news video.


  • 44 acres
  • $8.5 million
  • 7 African Elephant (ability to hold 2-3 bulls)
  • 9 White Rhino
  • Antelope species
  • 13,000 sf Indoor Elephant only Facility ($2.5 million)

Congratulations to all involved!!

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