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OKC Zoo welcomes arrival of two new Asian Elephants

A new addition to the OKC Zoo, Chai soaks up the rain at her new home at the OKC Zoo.  Photo by y Gillian Lang.  
A new addition to the OKC Zoo, Chai soaks up the rain at her new home at the OKC Zoo. Photo by y Gillian Lang.

By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter

Two new Asian elephants have arrived at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden. Making their way to OKC from Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) in Seattle, with a brief stop at the San Diego Zoo, Bamboo and Chaie got to town safely on Wednesday, May 13, at 3 a.m.

“We are excited to have these two new members join our family,” said Dwight Lawson, PhD, OKC Zoo executive director/CEO.

“This journey has always been about the best care possible for Bamboo and Chai. We’ve witnessed an incredible collaboration of three Association of Zoo and Aquarium-accredited zoos, which kept the well-being of Bamboo and Chai at the forefront of their transition,” he added.

“We are grateful to the Oklahoma City community for the outpouring of support and well wishes on behalf of the elephants, to the San Diego Zoo for temporarily accommodating Bamboo and Chai, and to the Woodland Park Zoo team who have worked tirelessly with high standards of professionalism,” said Lawson.

Martin Ramirez, Woodland Park Zoo’s mammal curator who was among elephant care staff accompanying the caravan said, “We’re pleased to report that Bamboo and Chai remained bright, alert, and in good condition throughout the road trip.”

“During the welfare check stops, they showed normal behavior, interacted positively with our staff and ate hay, pellets and hand-fed fruit treats.”

In addition to the stops every few hours, closed circuit remote cameras allowed staff to monitor the animals in real time.

Upon arrival, Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, Oklahoma City Zoo Director of Veterinary Services said, “Both Bamboo and Chai looked great. They immediately interacted with the Woodland Park Zoo staff, ate snacks including watermelon, cantaloupe, raisins and hay, enjoyed sand baths and explored their surroundings.”

As conditions became suitable, the new elephants could be seen outside in a separate elephant yard viewable to Zoo guests.

During the 30 day quarantine, a standard procedure for new animal arrivals at the Zoo, the new elephants are in close proximity to the Zoo’s existing elephant herd but with only visual, auditory and olfactory contact.

After the quarantine period, the new elephants are gradually introduced to the existing elephant herd. In addition, Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant staff will spend as much time as necessary with Bamboo and Chai to help ease their transition and settle them into their new surroundings.

Bamboo, 48, and Chai, 36, lived at WPZ for many years. However, the zoo recently phased out its on-site elephant program. After months of carefully evaluating potential homes, WPZ leadership and staff selected the OKC Zoo as the best facility for the well-being and overall care of the elephants.

“Oklahoma City Zoo is the best choice and meets our requirements to provide the best social welfare in a healthy environment for Bamboo and Chai,” said Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen.

“They will have an opportunity to live and socialize with more elephants and they will continue to receive the same kind of exemplary care they received during their lifetime at Woodland Park Zoo.”

WPZ’s criteria, based on recommendations from animal welfare experts, included a social herd of Asian elephants into which Chai and Bamboo could successfully integrate, a state-of-the-art facility, a healthy environment free of active infectious disease, a high-caliber elephant keeper and veterinary staff, a restricted contact elephant management system, and an established history of stable finances and leadership.

These recent additions bring the OKC Zoo’s Asian elephant herd to seven. Bamboo and Chai join female Asha, 20; female Chandra, 18, the sister of Asha; female Malee, 4, the daughter of Asha; female Achara, 5 months, the daughter of Asha and the Zoo’s sole male, Rex, 47.

“Adding Bamboo and Chai will help round out our family. Their maturity, plus experience with a baby, will be valuable in broadening the social dynamics of our herd. We look forward to having these new members join our family,” said Lawson.

Asian elephants are listed as critically endangered with an estimated 38,000 to 51,000 remaining in the wild and approximately 139 currently living in AZA-accredited facilities.

To learn more, call 405-424-3344 or visit

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