The primary goal of the Tembo Preserve is to create a permanent sanctuary for African elephants that ensures their well-being through ample room to roam and explore, an appropriate diet, encouragement of natural behavior enrichment such as foraging and access to excellent health care.
Oakland Zoo’s expertise in caring for captive African elephants along with our partners’ vast knowledge of the natural behavior, habitat, and ecology of elephants in the wild will serve as a guide to successfully establishing this one-of-a-kind facility. This incomparable species requires a highly specific set of needs that are taken into account throughout every step of the planning and implementation process.
African elephants live in matriarchal societies, meaning that social groups or families are organized along the female family lines. Female offspring most often remain in the natal group throughout their lives. Young males leave their family group in their early to mid-teens. In their late teens and twenties, they spend their social time in loosely formed bachelor groups, and as full adults, males socialize loosely with female family groups and males of all ages. Tembo Preserve will promote social groupings that approximate these natural groups. Controlled and slow reproduction will allow for matriarchal groups to form. Males will be socialized with each other or female groups, dependent on their age, temperament, and behavioral competency. We will work diligently to see that males live an appropriate social life, rather than the solitary life of a single male elephant too common in many zoos.
As an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited institution, staff will work with the AZA Elephant Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) to determine the most appropriate individuals for Tembo Preserve. All elephants must be physically and behaviorally appropriate for the near wild habitat and natural social living conditions.
We expect to begin elephant acquisition in early 2017 with the addition of 3-4 young, male elephants that will form a bachelor group. Through preliminary research and discussions with other AZA facilities, it is likely that young males will be available at this time. Once the male group has been established and we have more experience with the facility and managing the elephants in the larger habitats, we will consider additional acquisitions. Our long term plans are to acquire three breeding age female African elephants to form the foundation of a family group along with maintaining multiple bachelor groups.
In the wild, African elephants spend much of their time on the move, walking many miles between resources such as food, water, and shade over the course of a day or two. They are also a migratory species, sometimes moving hundreds of miles seasonally to take advantage of rain or other resources. Tembo Preserve residents will be encouraged to travel throughout the entire habitats to acquire food and water, and will move through the various ecosystem types in pursuit of deep shade, partial shade, or full sun, and traverse various substrates to find ideal resting and sleeping spots. They are expected to achieve activity patterns similar to wild elephants; management practices will focus efforts to achieve this.
As an herbivore, elephants eat primarily high fiber plant material and have a simple digestive system utilizing a vat-like fermenting cecum/intestine to break down plant cell walls for digestion; this digestive system is also found in horses. The quantity of forage consumed is dependent on the type of plant material available, but elephants generally consume about 200 pounds of food per day and they have been known to eat over 400 varieties of plants. Although elephants need water, they are a drought tolerant species and can go for days without drinking and for their size consume relatively little water. Tembo Preserve residents will be provided with a complete and nutritional diet that includes browse and tree branches harvested from local browse and hay farms, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a pelleted feed. These foods will be distributed throughout all of the elephant’s space to encourage activity and exploration that mimics the behavioral patterns of wild elephants.
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