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Mar 28, 2012 12:58 PM

Elephant exhibit opens

TUCSON - Some rather large news is coming out of the Reid Park Zoo; an exhibit with five elephants is now open. But some changes had to be made to the area to help keep the animals happy. Believe it or not, those big ears can actually pick up a lot of sound and that lead to some restructuring and rebuilding of the exhibit.

"When bringing in new animals and new exhibits, there's an adjustment period for staff, there's an adjustment period for animals and actually there's an adjustment period for equipment to manage the animals," says Jim Schnormeier, Zoo Curator.

At Reid Park Zoo, they operate under a protective contact policy. This means there will always be a barrier between keepers and elephants.

"Without being able to get in with the animals you'd have to be able to have some pretty unique doors, gates in sizes weights and strengths."

The zoo needed to install new gates with a combination of systems hydraulic and manual, but elephants are sensitive to vibrations and sounds that humans can't always hear.

"They run! Actually it was interesting; when the elephants first came here they hadn't been exposed to the air traffic. We had a couple jets fly over and they took off for the barn"

A locally based company was called in for the job.

"It's our responsibility to give them the best system and ecosystem that we can give them if we're going to bring them into captivity," says Sean Stoddard, A Thru Z President.

"We're here for the elephant, we want to help protect everything that we can on the gate to make sure that they don't hurt themselves," says Chris Stark, Project Manager.

A 25 ft high manual gate was just a small part of the project. No hydraulics were used and it can be opened by just one person.

"We're conscious of their environment all the time and we don't want loud, clanging doors something like you would have on your garage door or something like that," says Schnormeier.

It was a high task, but a big improvement for the giant residents.

The exhibit was completed in the end of February and took 14 months to build. It was 7.9 million dollars and half of that came from private donations.

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