Pennsylvania’s Somerset County isn’t exactly the African Savanna, but as many as 20 elephants could be calling it home in the next few years.
The International Conservation Center broke ground Saturday on a 1-acre elephant cow and calf barn, to add to the 724-acre facility.
Pittsburgh Zoo CEO Barbara Baker said the barn will focus on elephant breeding to try and combat the declining population.
“Poaching in Africa has just gone off the roof,” she said. “It’s off the scale in regards to the animals and the number of animals that we’re seeing lost every single week. Poaching has just become rampant with the economic upturns in China and Vietnam.”
About 74 elephants are killed every week.
Baker said the barn is a security measure.
“We also want to be sure that we have a captive population so if anything ever happened to the African elephant in the wild,” she said, “heaven forbid, that we would be able to at least have elephants in captivity and then be able to possibly reintroduce them to the wild at some point.”
Four female elephants and one male named Jackson currently live at the center. Jackson has been called the most valuable breeding bull in the United States.
Some people worry about Pennsylvania’s frigid winters, but Baker said elephants absorb heat like reptiles and can withstand low temperatures as long as they have some heat exposure.
The center will provide an open and quiet environment for the animals to breed and form herds. Baker hopes in the future groups of elephants from Somerset County will be shipped to other zoos to start new breeding programs.
Baker said if no action is taken, extinction is a real possibility
“The elephant is the most recognized animal in the world,” she said. “And how sad it would be that there would be no more. They would be like dinosaurs — no more elephants.”
The facility is not be open to the public and Baker said people will need to go to the zoo to see the elephants.