Culture / Entertainment

Your Sneak Peek Inside Fort Worth Zoo’s New Elephant Wonderland — This is No Ordinary Habitat

The Rhinos Get in On the Fun Too — and Just Wait Till You See Those Water Cannons

BY // 04.15.21

The Fort Worth Zoo’s $100-million capital campaign and building project, A Wilder Vision, debuted the first phase of its four part transformational improvement project three years ago in April of 2018, with the opening of its 10-acre African Savannah. Now, the zoo is opening its newest habitat Elephant Springs, which includes multiple lush, green spaces and various watering holes for Asian elephants and greater one-horned rhino to roam.

The zoo is celebrating the grand opening today (Thursday, April 15) with the official ribbon cutting, but invited zoo members got a special first look on Tuesday and Wednesday — and so did PaperCity Fort Worth. Elephant Springs brings new spaces, renovated habitats, merchandise locations, restrooms and most importantly, new ways to observe, interact with and learn about these majestic animals.

zoo – the main pool holds 400,000 gallons of water
The main pool holds 400,000 gallons of water. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

“We are thrilled with these amazing new habitats and I must thank the citizens of Fort Worth, who continue to be so generous in their support of the Zoo,” says Ramona Bass, chair of the Fort Worth Zoological Association board of directors. “None of this would be possible without them.”

Way beyond a mere renovation, this new elephant habitat almost triples the size of the zoo’s old one. It will be the home of the zoo’s remarkable Asian elephant herd, which includes a three-generation family. It’s as much about the comfort, care and, most importantly, the breeding of the herd as it is about the enhanced viewing for the more than one million visitors who enjoy the zoo and participate in its education programs each year.

The playful pachyderms were introduced to their new space this week. “They seem to be making themselves at home so far, napping, swimming and fully submerging in the main pool,” Avery Elander, Fort Worth Zoo public relations manager, tells PaperCity Fort Worth.

“We have seven members of the Asian elephant herd, four females and three males, and two of them are considered juveniles. The habitat is designed with continuous enrichment opportunities for them to mix and mingle and move as a herd, much as they would in the wild.”

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There is even a shaded demonstration area with seating that will be activated soon, so visitors can enjoy watching the zookeepers and elephants interact in regular “training” exercises. The exercises give visitors prime viewing, zoo keepers up close time to inspect the elephants from trunk to tail and stimulating/relational activity for the animals themselves.

The old elephant habitat had only two yards ― now there are five. The primary pool is 400,000 gallons of refreshing bliss for the herd, with colorful plantings and naturalistic rock outcroppings, four waterfalls, additional water features and even water cannons that let kids interact directly with the elephants. They can spray them with streams of water, which the elephants enjoy.

zoo – made to look like an authentic fishing village
One main pool with two smaller splash pools surround the fishing village at Fort Worth Zoo’s newest attraction. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

“Guests are made to walk through an authentic floating fishing village with water flowing underneath and all around,” Elander says. “This is the closest that visitors have ever been able to get to these animals.”

Many of the hand-painted elements, decorating Elephant Springs, were created by zoo staff, along with Fort Worth muralist Kristen Soble, who has been tapped before to liven up other spaces at the zoo.

“We are excited to bring guests face-to-face with some of the most unique creatures in the world here at the Fort Worth Zoo,” says Zoo executive director Michael Fouraker. “While these animals have resided at the Zoo for some time, guests will be able to get closer to these animals and engage in ways that they’ve never been able to before.

“Elephant Springs will also shine a light on the struggles many of these animals face in the wild.”

zoo – touches painted by local muralist Kristen Soble
Authentic touches painted by local muralist Kristen Soble. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

Greater one-horned rhinos now share a fence with the elephants, though they are separated by a river. Expanded spaces for this vulnerable species, which appears to be clad in armor, will allow the zoo to continue its breeding and conservation program. Elephant Springs will also drive home messages of conservation and environmental stewardship.

In fact, what’s going on behind the scenes, well out of view of visitors, is just as important for Ramona Bass and Michael Fouraker as the tangible improvements for the animals. The zoo’s ongoing conservation mission are always priority one.

Mayor Betsy Price and Ramona Bass celebrate the opening of Elephant Springs.

A Fort Worth Zoo Elephant Springs Primer

The Fort Worth’s Zoo’s Asian elephant herd will now enjoy:

– Fifteen individual stalls to give the animals their own spaces, although many of the stalls are interconnected and can open into one larger space.

— A climate-controlled environment including exhaust fans constantly in motion, keeping the air continuously circulating throughout. There are also heating elements available when necessary.

— The sand floors provide added comfort for the herd and create an ideal nursery space for calves in the future.

— Multiple neighboring yards are accessible should the animals choose to venture outdoors overnight.

— A prep kitchen, food pantry and second-floor hayloft providing easy access to food storage for the herd.

— Indoor and outdoor training spaces giving keepers the ability to get close-up views and, in some cases hands-on, examinations of the animals. In this space, keepers will also examine, clean and trim the animals’ feet and nails. Yes, the elephants receive weekly pedicures,

— The barn includes built-in floor scales so that keepers can be sure the animals are within a healthy weight range.

— A state-of-the-art water filtration system allowing all water features to be purified and reused.

zoo – shaded elements at Elephant Springs
Shaded viewing at Elephant Springs. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)

“We want people to make these connections and get inspired to learn more about conserving their counterparts in the wild,” Elander says.

The Fort Worth Zoo is home to more than 7000 animals, some of them highly endangered species. Behind all the fun and interactivity that the Fort Worth Zoo provides, there is the mission of educating the next generation to conserve the ecosystems and species that rely on us for their very survival.

“As the No. 1 zoo in the country, we’re confident that the changes and improvements happening here will continue to elevate our profile as the nation’s top-ranked zoo as well as an international leader in animal care and conservation,” Fort Worth Zoo president Ardon Moore says in a statement.

Elephant Springs is built around allowing the zoo to further its conversation leadership role and guaranteeing the survival of these magnificent creatures for generations to come.

Next to get the white glove treatment at Fort Worth Zoo will be Hunters of Africa & Asian Predators (which includes the lions, tigers, hyenas, African wild dogs, clouded leopards, cheetahs, zebras and several exotic bird species) in phase three, which is already in progress, and on pace to debut in 2023. That will be followed by the final installment of A Wilder Vision, called Forests & Jungles which will bring to life a reimagined treetop habitat for the endangered arboreal apes. That’s anticipated to open in 2025.

The Fort Worth Zoo is continuing to grow — and now its elephants have ample room to roam. You’ve never seen an elephant land quite like this. Click thru the photo gallery below for an even closer look:

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