Visit an Elephant, Contribute to Conservation

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Zoos and Aquariums Essential to Species Survival.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Freeman/IEF

Elephants are as beautiful as their populations are fragile, and there’s no better place to connect with them and understand what is being done to help them than at an AZA-accredited zoo.

Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos are leaders in elephant conservation education and science, and invite the public to celebrate and support elephants by visiting them this summer.

“Experiencing an elephant close-up is a moving experience,” said AZA President and CEO, Jim Maddy. “Elephants are as beautiful as their populations are fragile, and there’s no better place to connect with them and understand what is being done to help them than at an AZA-accredited zoo.”

Status Of Elephants In The Wild

In the wild, elephants are in trouble. Elephant populations in Africa and Asia are under severe threat from human-elephant conflict (HEC), intense poaching, disease, and dramatic loss of habitat.

Elephas Maximus – Over the last 75 years, the population of Asian elephants is estimated to have declined by 50 percent or more, maintaining their endangered status according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN) There are now an estimated 45,000 Asian elephants in 13 countries.

Loxodonta Africana – African elephant populations are reportedly on the rise in recent years, but are still fragile having declined by 25 percent over the last 25 years. Conservation and education efforts are crucial to maintain elephant populations and habitats. There are now an estimated 470,000 to 690,000.

Elephants in Zoos are Thriving

Today, 313 elephants live in 76 AZA-accredited zoos. About one half are Asian elephants and half are African elephants. They are cared for daily by professional zookeepers and veterinarians who dedicate their lives to these magnificent animals.

AZA-accredited facilities launched the Species Survival Plan Program in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected at-risk species. The African and Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan (SSP) provides a thorough conservation strategy that spans veterinary research, public education, and field conservation projects. Its mission is to promote a strong future for African and Asian elephant populations through zoo conservation programs.

The AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care set requirements for enclosure design, nutrition, reproduction, enrichment, and veterinary care to ensure high-quality zoo habitats for elephants. These mandatory standards, adopted in 2003, are working and the North American elephant population is thriving. In addition, several new state-of-the-art exhibits, including at the San Diego Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, demonstrate the ongoing commitment to excellence in elephant care.

With the help of elephants in AZA-accredited zoos, elephants around the world are benefitting from veterinary advancements. Because of scientific research in zoos, artificial insemination is now being practiced in Asia; contraceptive drugs and techniques are available as an alternative to culling; and tuberculosis tests and drugs are safely implemented worldwide. Similarly, the study of pheromones and breeding behavior was first identified and studied in zoos.

Zoos Conservation Efforts

AZA-accredited zoos play an important role in furthering elephant conservation on a worldwide basis. In addition to supporting the elephant Species Survival Plan, 10 examples of these vital programs include:

  •     The Tarangire Elephant Tracking Project in Tanzania. This project tracks African elephants in the Tarangire National Forest by means of global positioning systems to map their migration patterns. This will aid in drafting land use proposals to protect the elephants’ migration, feeding and calving areas. The program also supports the higher education of native Tanzanians who wish to devote their graduate work to conservation studies.
  •     Human Elephant Conflict in Tamil Nadu, India. Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) is a large and growing threat to elephants as their natural habitat continues to reduce in size. This project will address a viable management strategy for elephant reserves with special emphasis on corridor management in order to prevent HEC.
  •     Uda Walawe National Park, Sri Lanka. The purpose of the project is to study Asian elephant social behavior and population dynamics in the Uda Walawe National Park. Elephants in the park are threatened by development outside of the park and data will ultimately help in the making of wildlife management decisions that reduce human-elephant conflict and provide alternate development strategies to help sustain the elephant population in Sri Lanka.
  •     Sumatra Elephant Conservation Response Units, Indonesia. This ongoing project by the Conservation Response Unit (CRU) in Sumatra will investigate human-elephant interactions in order to improve local perception by utilizing once neglected captive elephants and their mahouts (handlers) for direct field based conservation interventions for wild elephants. The main objectives are: 1) mitigating human-elephant conflict; 2) reducing wildlife crime through forest patrol and monitoring; 3) raising awareness among locals of the importance of conserving elephants and their habitat; 4) establishing community-based ecotourism to ensure long-term CRU financial sustainability.
  •     Disease Investigation in Assam, India. Disease is a natural threat to both wild and managed elephants, and this project aims to study the prevalence of disease amongst wild populations in the Assam region to evolve strategies for their protection from diseases. The project hopes to produce base line data on infectious and non-infectious diseases to prevent future cases amongst wild elephant populations.
  •     The Waterways and Dura Recovery Project, Western Uganda. Poaching has devastated the region’s elephant population, and this project aims to create better monitoring and enforcement in the area by stationing rangers in key locations to prevent further loss. Additionally, the project aims to encourage elephants to use the protected corridor to repopulate the region.
  •     Capacity building by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), Kenya. The role of the NRT is to develop the capacity and self-sufficiency of its constituent community conservancies in biodiversity conservation, natural resource management and natural resources based enterprises. These efforts aim to help both elephants and humans in the Northern Kenya region.
  •     Investigating African elephant vocal communication which has led to the discovery of two new vocalizations that had never been reported for elephants in the wild or in zoological settings. The long-term goal of the elephant vocalization project is to develop and implement vocal communication technology in the wild to help with conservation and management efforts.
  •     Conducting research on Endotheliotropic Elephant Herpesvirus (EEHV). The collaborative study aims to identify the causes of the disease in zoos and in the wild in an effort to ultimately prevent future EEHV fatalities, as well as find the status of EEHV in individual elephants, their potential for further transmission, and identify predisposing factors that make specific elephants more susceptible to the disease.
  •     Supporting the development of The National Elephant Center (TNEC) in order to enhance the ability to grow and manage zoo elephant populations in North America and to create a sustainable future for elephants through research and conservation efforts by zoo elephant care experts.

Your Visit Makes a Difference

Elephants in AZA-accredited zoos help educate visitors, make emotional connections, and change behaviors that positively impact elephant conservation. In a Harris Interactive poll, 95 percent of Americans said that seeing elephants in zoos helps people appreciate them more. That same poll found that 86 percent of respondents believe that visiting zoos encourages people to donate time and/or money to elephant conservation.

Zoos regularly provide conservation-oriented educational encounters to educate the public about the conservation status of elephants in the wild. Many also offer adult education classes to focus on the plight of elephants and the conservation efforts currently underway, with a portion of registration funds going directly to continue in-situ work to help elephant.

By visiting elephants in accredited zoos, people help make possible the field conservation, research, habitat restoration, reduction of human-elephant conflicts and community-based initiatives necessary to protect wild populations. AZA-accredited zoos provide the majority of funding for the International Elephant Foundation, supporting elephant conservation projects worldwide. Read about the projects funded in 2010:

Connecting with Elephants

There is no substitute for connecting with an elephant up close. You can have a unique experience with an elephant at the following AZA-accredited zoos. Visit any of these AZA-accredited zoos today to learn more about elephants, how the zoo is contributing to conservation and what you can do to help. Find the AZA-accredited institution near you:
Africam Safari Park - Puebla, Mexico
Albuquerque Bio Park - Albuquerque, NM
Audubon Zoo - New Orleans, LA
BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo - Baton Rouge, LA
Bronx Zoo - Bronx, NY
Buffalo Zoo - Buffalo, NY
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay - Tampa, FL
Buttonwood Park Zoo - New Bedford, MA
Caldwell Zoo - Tyler, TX
Calgary Zoo - Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Cameron Park Zoo - Waco, TX
Central Florida Zoo - Sanford, FL
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo - Colorado Springs, CO
Chicago Zoological Society- Brookfield Zoo - Chicago, IL
Cincinnati Zoo - Cincinnati, OH
Cleveland Metroparks Zoo - Cleveland, OH
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium - Columbus, OH
Dallas Zoo - Dallas, TX
Denver Zoo - Denver, CO
Dickerson Park Zoo - Springfield, MO
Disney's Animal Kingdom - Lake Buena Vista, FL
El Paso Zoo - El Paso, TX
Forth Worth Zoo - Fort Worth, TX
Fresno Chaffee Zoo - Fresno, CA
Granby Zoo - Granby, Quebec, Canada
Greenville Zoo - Greenville, SC
Honolulu Zoo - Honolulu, HI
Houston Zoo - Houston, TX
Indianapolis Zoo - Indianapolis, IN
Jackson Zoo - Jackson, MS
Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens - Jacksonville, FL
Kansas City Zoo - Kansas City, MO
Knoxville Zoo - Knoxville, TN
Lee Richardson Zoo - Garden City, KS
Little Rock Zoo - Little Rock, AR
Los Angeles Zoo - Los Angeles, CA
Louisville Zoo - Louisville, KY
Maryland Zoo in Baltimore - Baltimore, MD
Memphis Zoo - Memphis, TN
Miami Metrozoo - Miami, FL
Milwaukee County Zoo - Milwaukee, WI
Montgomery Zoo - Montgomery, AL
Nashville Zoo - Nashville, TN
Niabi Zoo - Coal Valley, IL
North Carolina Zoo - Asheboro, NC
Oakland Zoo - Oakland, CA
Oklahoma City Zoo - Oklahoma City, OK
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo - Omaha, NE
Oregon Zoo - Portland, OR
Philadelphia Zoo - Philadelphia, PA
Phoenix Zoo - Phoenix, AZ
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium - Pittsburgh, PA
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium - Tacoma, WA
Reid Park Zoo - Tucson, AZ
Riverbanks Zoo - Columbia, SC
Roger Williams Park Zoo - Providence, RI
Rosamond Gifford Zoo - Syracuse, NY
Saint Louis Zoo - Saint Louis, MO
San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium - San Antonio, TX
San Diego Zoo - San Diego, CA
San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park - Escondido, CA
Santa Barbara Zoo - Santa Barbara, CA
Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS
Seneca Park Zoo - Rochester, NY
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - Vallejo, CA
Smithsonians National Zoo - Washington, D.C.
Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo - Tampa, FL
Toledo Zoo - Toledo, OH
Topeka Zoo - Topeka, KS
Toronto Zoo - Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
Tulsa Zoo & Living Aquarium - Tulsa, OK
Utah's Hogle Zoo - Salt Lake City, UT
Virginia Zoo - Norfolk, VA
Wildlife Safari - Winston, OR
Woodland Park Zoo - Seattle, WA
Zoo Atlanta - Atlanta, GA

About AZA
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. To learn more, visit


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