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FIRST LOOK: Elephants land in Omaha

Posted at 10:34 PM, Mar 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-11 23:38:33-05

Omaha’s newest residents were finally tucked in at the Henry Doorly Zoo Friday. A days-long journey ended for a herd of six elephants, imported from Swaziland in southern Africa.

Eighteen elephants made the trip—and will be settled at zoos in Dallas, Wichita, and Omaha. The herd at the Henry Doorly Zoo has five females and one male. They are a centerpiece of the zoo’s new African Grasslands exhibit.

Crowds gathered at a back gate to catch a glimpse of the animals, transported in large crates on two large semi-trucks Friday. The hours-long process began at Eppley as each animal stepped off a giant 747 into a crate that was hoisted by a crane on to a waiting semi truck. The final truck arrived at the zoo just around 8 p.m. Friday.

“There were issues with pallets, there were issues loading plane. It's a tedious process getting on the plane. There were issues with pilot time,” Henry Doorly Zoo Director Dennis Pate said Friday. “This is a multi-generational kind of effort here and a long term effort here. It's going to stabilize or help improve the population. It's the largest import since the 1980’s.”

Critics of the elephant import criticized the move Friday, saying putting the wild animals in captivity denied them of their natural lifestyle.

Pate said the animals would remain in quarantine for up to 30 days. He said zoo veterinarians would also begin a series of health and genetic tests as soon as the animals were rested from the journey.