Lee Richardson Zoo’s African elephants will be relocating to Colorado Springs.
The Garden City Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a recommendation from an advisory committee to send Missy and Kimba, LRZ’s aging elephants, to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Commissioner Chris Law was the lone no vote.
While a specific date for the relocation has not been set, city officials discussed the possibility of it happening in October.
Newland said the elephants will need to go through some training before being transported to Colorado.
“Zoos generally have their biggest shipping windows in the fall and in the spring,” she said.
The decision wasn’t without debate or emotion, however, as several community members addressed the commission before the vote.
Newland said it was a difficult recommendation and decision to make.
“Elephants mean a lot to the zoo and a lot to the community. They’ve been excellent ambassadors for their wild counterparts,” Newland said, adding that the zoo’s responsibility is to do what’s best for the animals in its care.
The search for a new home for the elephants resulted from an evaluation of the elephants earlier this year, driven mostly by their ages. Missy is 46 and Kimba is 33.
The two have been together for the past 30 years. Zoo officials have said sending both to another zoo together would allow them to acclimate and integrate with other elephants before one or the other dies.
Newland said several factors were considered in the selection of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha was also considered.
Newland said Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is committed to specializing in geriatric elephants while efforts are made nationally to increase the captive elephant population through breeding programs.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo currently has four African female elephants that can increase the social opportunities for Missy and Kimba, Newland said. Its elephant staff collectively has 91 years of experience handling elephants and bringing other elephants into its group.
She said there are also two full-time veterinarians, and the zoo has access to a large animal physical therapist.
“Outside, they have multiple areas for the elephants, including a 3-acre yard and a walking trail,” Newland said.
Newland said the decision to move the elephants has never been a question of the care they receive from Lee Richardson Zoo staff, but is about the elephants’ needs.
“I realize there are others who are for and against the recommendation. We welcome all views,” she said. “We feel the recommendation we have put before you is the best for Missy and Kimba’s future welfare.”
Commissioner Dan Fankhauser asked Newland if the current facility at Lee Richardson Zoo would accommodate three elephants. Newland said it would but that it’s not likely the zoo will be able to get a third one, given the current state of the elephant population.
Several local residents spoke to the commission about the elephants.
Resident Linda Motley said she would like to see the elephants go to Colorado, and reminded commissioners of the less than ideal living conditions some zoo animals have experienced, including Penny, an Asian elephant that was brought to the zoo in the 1950s.
“I know that Penny, she was put in a small and confined area, she had no enrichment, she was very aggressive. She would reach over and she would grab bicycles and beat the tar out of the bicycles because she was isolated,” Motley said.
She said zoos have since changed their focus from entertainment to conservation. Animals aren’t solely for people’s enjoyment, Motley said, but people are their guardians.
“I feel like we need to look at what’s best for them. They provided entertainment for 30 years. Don’t they deserve to have a quality ending to their life?” she said.
Former commissioner David Crase, who has spoken in favor of keeping the elephants at Lee Richardson Zoo at other commission meetings, read a letter from his wife, Deann Crase, that expressed, in part, her desire to keep the elephants in Garden City.
David Crase asked what the new plan for the elephant exhibit will be, and whether Newland plans to introduce black rhinos.
“Do you already have the animals lined up to come in if we were to move the elephants out?” he asked.
“We have not been presumptuous on the decision that will be made here today,” Newland said.
Crase likened the zoo to a business, saying the elephants are one of its prime features.
“And if you run a business and you have a prime product, most competent business managers would not do away with one of the prime products without having a replacement for that, is what I’m getting at,” Crase said, suggesting holding on to the two elephants until a replacement is lined up. “But as a business, you really don’t want to have another closed down, empty lot there at the zoo is what I’m getting at.”
Kim Inderlied, a member of the advisory committee, admitted that early on, she didn’t want to see the elephants go either.
“When I first heard about the zoo needing to move the elephants, of course I was against it. I love the elephants. I would be against losing any of our animals,” Inderlied said.
But after learning more about elephants and their social natures, she had a change of heart and likened the situation to being the new kid on the first day of school.
“You don’t have anybody to sit with at lunch every day. It’s traumatic,” Inderlied said, adding that it would be even worse to send an elephant to a new herd just after losing its longtime companion. “We’re not only sending one elephant to try to fit in, we’re sending one elephant whose heart is broken because she lost her friend.”
Commissioner Melvin Dale, who served on the advisory committee, said the decision to move the elephants was a hard one and disagreed with Crase about them being products.
“We’re not in the business of selling cookies, and don’t have to sell cookies. We’re talking about living animals, and we have to treat them different and (do) what’s best for them, because they are here and placed in our custody to look after them,” Dale said.
Dale said after learning that there are only 160 to 165 elephants in the country, and that only a handful of zoos will have the means to breed and house elephants, he realized Garden City would not be able to build and maintain the type of facility needed.
In other business Tuesday:
• Commissioners unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Lewis Motors, Inc., for the development of a Toyota and Nissan dealership at Schulman Crossing.
• Commissioners approved the plat for the Meadowlark Dairy Nutrition, LLC addition, a subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America. Meadowlark plans to build a U.S.D.A. dairy dryer milk processing plant and related facilities on 156 acres on the south side of Garden City.
• Commissioners approved a purchase agreement with Mapcon Technologies, Inc., for computerized management software for a monthly fee of $2,485 and a one-time purchase and training of $6,500.