By Jessica Tuggle
FELLSMERE -- The first residents of the National Elephant Center -- and their trunks -- arrived two weeks ago and are learning the lay of the land.
A family of four African elephants, two adult females and two juvenile males, moved into their new home in Fellsmere on May 15 and have enjoyed the sunshine, rain and foraging available in their 20-plus acres of pastures in their new home.
John Lehnhardt, executive director of the National Elephant Center, said the pachyderms, who are owned by Walt Disney World and previously resided at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, have adapted very well to the environment in Fellsmere.
"The two boys have lived in one place their whole lives so there is a period of adjustment, but they are doing really well," Mr. Lehnhardt said.
Thandi is the matriarch, the oldest and largest female in the group at about 32 years old. The onsite staff call her the "aunt" of the family. Moyo, the other adult female, is just a year or two younger and is the mother of Tufani, 10, and Tsavo, 5.
The large land mammals were recommended to be transferred to the Fellsmere center by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Elephant Species Survival Program, Mr. Lehnhardt said.
Because the elephants are endangered, the program monitors and manages the elephant population in North American zoos to make sure they are all in healthy social groups.
The purpose of the elephant center is to provide excellence in elephant health care and improve the population's long-term viability.
In the wild, females and their young live together in large multi-generational biological family groups, with the males leaving once they reach their teenage years and puberty.
"Tufani is just now reaching the age where he is starting to push back against the leadership of his mother and aunt, and he will soon need to be separated from them, making the move to Fellsmere very timely and appropriate," Mr. Lehnhardt said.
Right now there aren't any more planned elephant arrivals, but in the future, another small family group could be brought to Fellsmere to join Thandi's family group. There are also currently no plans to breed elephants at the facility, but if the species survival program directors recommended it, the center could facilitate breeding.
"In these first couple of weeks the elephants are enjoying the 'forest-y' areas of the pastures more than the 'plains,'" Mr. Lehnhardt said. "And they don't really like the oranges, but they really like the orange trees."
For more information about the National Elephant Center, visit www.nationalelephantcenter.org.