SALT LAKE CITY (KSL.com) — Jenni Oman has been coming to Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City at least once a year for decades, and now she brings her 4-year-old daughter, Vivian, about twice a month.
“I grew up loving Hogle Zoo,” Oman said. “It’s different than when I was a kid, but the whole zoo is such a great place. I love bringing her.”
Oman and Vivian, joined by Oman’s mother, Marilyn Caracena — who also grew up going to Hogle — were among the hundreds of other Utahns on Saturday to say farewell to the zoo’s two African elephants. The elephants, Christie, 37, and Zuri, 14, will be leaving in the next few weeks to join a larger herd at another zoo. Hogle Zoo held a ceremony Saturday to give Utahns a chance to say goodbye to the beloved animals.
“We love the elephants,” Oman said. She remembers riding an elephant at Hogle as a child in the ’80s. “We’re sad to see them go, but we understand.”
Alora Gubler, who works in zoo guest engagement, said Zuri was conceived via artificial insemination and born at Hogle Zoo. The elephant in the room is that zookeepers have since tried to artificially inseminate Zuri, but with no success. This led to the decision that the best breeding opportunity for her would be to join a larger herd of elephants.
“Elephants are very social creatures,” said Heather Barnum, Hogle Zoo spokeswoman, explaining that elephants thrive in multigenerational herds in the wild. “We want the opportunity for Zuri to have calves. … She’s going to thrive best in a larger herd where she has that opportunity.”
Barnum emphasized that they aren’t just breeding elephants for the sake of breeding. She called the elephant breeding plan a “very sophisticated dating program” that follows the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ species survival plan to protect endangered species.
Hogle Zoo was one of the country’s first zoos to be accredited by the association in 1979, and Zuri and Christie will be sent to another accredited zoo. Barnum said the zoo isn’t telling what zoo the elephants will be transported to, or the exact time of transport, for the safety of the animals.
“This decision was not made lightly,” Barnum said. “We really did work with experts to try and keep the elephants here, because we love them.”
But she said that makes the decision “that much better” to know the animals are receiving the best care possible for them.
“Elephants have been an important part of our story,” Gubler said. The first elephant to come to the zoo was Princess Alice, a 32-year-old Asian elephant. Princess Alice was sold by the Sells Floto Circus in 1916, finding her new home at the zoo at Liberty Park that eventually became Utah’s Hogle Zoo in 1931.
Kayleigh Shaw, 8, came to say goodbye to Christie and Zuri on Saturday, carrying a stuffed elephant toy.
“I like seeing the elephants,” Kayleigh said. She comes to the zoo a few times a year to see them play in the water and said she’s sad to see them go. But Kayleigh made it clear that elephants are only her second-favorite animal, after giraffes.
Barnum encouraged locals to come visit the zoo as soon as possible, in the next couple of weeks, to say goodbye to the elephants. Barnum said she doesn’t believe elephants will return to Hogle, so their space will be used to house new species or to expand living quarters for other animals already at the zoo.
She emphasized that the zoo is “always changing” and that there are 900 other animals at the zoo to enjoy.
“We are just as sad, if not sadder (than zoo-goers) that the elephants are leaving,” Barnum said. “We’re also so grateful that we’ve heard such positive responses, that the guests understand it’s for the best well-being of the animals and that we’re putting the animals (first).”