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17 elephants headed to U.S., 1 died waiting

Posted at 5:45 PM, Mar 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-10 18:49:58-05

Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo has confirmed that 17 African elephants are on their way to the United States.

RELATED: Elephants coming to Henry Doorly Zoo despite legal battle

The official confirmation was also posted to their Facebook page late Thursday afternoon. The elephants, coming from Swaziland, will find homes not only here in Omaha but also in Wichita, Kansas and Dallas, Texas. 

“The elephants are doing well, and we’ve just received word from the veterinarians with them on the flight that they are eating, drinking and resting,” said Dennis Pate, executive director and CEO of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. “We are ready to welcome them to their new homes.”

SEE ALSO: 'A lot of logistics' for transporting elephants, says Omaha's Zoo director

The zoo has been renovating a new exhibit for the elephants for several months.

The release from the zoo reiterates the move is to help preserve the elephants health during a reported drought in the region.

The drought is causing one of the most significant health threats to the people and wildlife in the region, and Swaziland has declared a national state of emergency. The United Nations is providing food assistance to more than 200,000 people in the country.

The situation became more pressing when, according to the release, one of the 18 elephants died awaiting relocation to the United States.

The urgency of the situation increased in December when the three zoos were notified by wildlife managers in Swaziland of the death of one of those elephants that was awaiting relocation to the U.S. The death resulted from an acute gastrointestinal medical condition, which was impossible to treat. The zoos recognized it was their duty to act promptly on behalf of the remaining 17 elephants, by relocating them quickly so they could receive the veterinary care the zoos can provide. They are now en route to the U.S.

The move has included a controversial legal fight by some who claim the elephants shouldn't be put in a zoo.

“Without any forewarning from the zoo's we learned from someone in Swaziland what was going on yesterday morning so it all happened quite fast,” said Friends for Animals Wildlife Director Michael Harris.

He said they are calling these elephants the “Stolen 18,” and they feel they were underhanded and unable to fight for the elephants. 

“Legally there is not a whole lot we can do now, but I don't think anyone is going to let the zoo's forget and I think that this is something we are going to make sure that everyone who visits those animals over their lifetime knows their story,” said Harris.