Zoo partners with UTSA to help enrich elephants' lives

Zoo partners with UTSA to help enrich elephants' lives

SAN ANTONIO – A new partnership between the San Antonio Zoo and UTSA will help make life better for the zoo’s elephants.

A federal lawsuit targeting the exhibit was dropped late last year because the zoo made, and continues to make, big improvements.

For a while, Lucky the elephant lived there all alone. Now, she has two new companion elephants. There’s also a new rain garden in their habitat.

"They're enjoying being kind of a herd here in the zoo,” says the zoo’s mammal director Jonathan Reding.

Next, they’re about to get their trunks on something new.

“They use their trunks for everything,” Reding explains. “Their trunks are their fingers.”

UTSA students researched how elephants behave to find out how they stay active and happy.

"They're incredibly intelligent. Extremely dexterous,” assistant research professor Gold Hood says. “They can pick up a single leaf without crushing it."

The class designed and is now building devices meant to enrich the animals’ lives.

There’s the Electric BABE, which is essentially a concrete tree.

"They're showers for the elephants,” explains student Aramis Babcock. “And what I'm working on right now is the buttons that the elephants will press."

There’s also the Foobil, a spinning mobile.

"They can hit it and food will fall out of the holes and the little modules,” says student Katherine Wofford, who designed that particular device.

The elephants will also get a Tire Tower, similar to the stacking tower children’s toy.

"They will be able to use their trunks to pull them up and down off of there in order to access food from the inside,” student Sarah Robinson says.

Installation in the habitat begins Monday, helping secure the future of the gentle giants.

"So it's all mimicking different behaviors we would see in the wild,” Reding says. "They're very inquisitive animals so they're going to go up right away and investigate."


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