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Cincinnati Zoo Breaks Ground On Bigger Home For Elephants

Cincinnati Zoo
This is the elephant's current home at the zoo. The new exhibit will be five times bigger.

The biggest project in Cincinnati Zoo history is underway. That's fitting, because it involves the biggest animals at the zoo - the elephants.

The five-acre Elephant Trek is scheduled to open in 2024 and is part of the zoo's "More Home to Roam" capital campaign, designed to "dramatically transform" its animal habitats. The zoo broke ground on the exhibit Tuesday.

Complete with a pond and big barn, Elephant Trek will be five times larger than the current elephant home at the zoo. Head Keeper Eric Duning is excited to see the reaction when the elephants move to the new exhibit.

"Our oldest elephant is 48 years old and for her, this is going to be the biggest space she's ever had," he says. "I think it will be like kids on Christmas." 

The zoo has four elephants now, and will add four more (two moms and two calves) from the Dublin, Ireland, zoo. It eventually could have as many as 10 to 12.

Zoo Director Thane Maynard says the Cincinnati Zoo is committed to keeping elephants as part of the zoo going forward. "We are dedicated to having a big herd, a multigenerational herd and a breeding program going forward."

Only one elephant has been born at the zoo in its 146-year history.

Credit Cincinnati Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo
Rendering of what Elephant Trek will look like.

By committing to elephants, the zoo is also commiting to Asian elephant conservation. It is working with partners in northeast India where the elephant has been given the highest level of protection.

Elephants Will Help The Zoo Achieve Net Zero By 2025

More elephants also mean more ways for the zoo to go green. Their big piles of poop will be part of the two million pounds of organic waste the zoo produces annually. A huge aerobic digester converts it to a soil enhancer, helping grow more food for the elephants. Also, the zoo says elements built into Elephant Trek, including storm water tanks that will hold one million gallons of water, will help it reduce expenses and get to net zero by 2025.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Thane Maynard, (center with hands up) director of the Cincinnati Zoo, shovels dirt to break ground on Elephant Trek.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.