Birmingham Zoo adopts new elephants, opens welcome center

Birmingham Zoo adopts new elephants, opens welcome center
One of the Birmingham Zoo's two new African male elephants roams the grounds. (Brittany Faush/Alabama NewsCenter)

Two new residents at the Birmingham Zoo recently made their debut for guests.

Male African elephants Luti and Gadze explored the zoo’s habitat for the first time in July. The zoo adopted Luti, 9, and Gadze, 10, from San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The elephants are a part of the zoo’s unique program that specializes in bachelor elephant husbandry.

“Right now, we’re giving them some time to get used to the habitat, heat and humidity before we do any big introductions with Bulwagi. Bulwagi is our 38-year-old male elephant and the anchor of our program,” said Dr. Stephanie Braccini Slade, vice president of Living Collections. “Once we see the signs that they’re comfortable, and we expand the amount of time that they’re out, then we start looking at introducing other new variables.”

Alabama elephant population grows by two at Birmingham Zoo from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Birmingham Zoo is collaborating with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in maintaining species survival programs and helping global elephant conservation efforts.

“There’s so many different threats toward elephants in the wild right now,” Slade said. “Not only are we involved in range country research, looking at the behavior and conservation in animals in country, we also do a lot with 96 Elephants. This campaign is a global conservation effort in making people more aware through education of what is the plight of elephants.”

The elephants aren’t the only additions to the park. For the past ­four years, the zoo has been working toward updating its welcome center.

“It’s very important to have a welcome center because the zoo has been growing in its attendance,” said Chris Pfefferkorn, Birmingham Zoo president and CEO. “We also needed to grow the amenities and build on our guest experience. Our old building was falling down and could not handle the number of folks that were coming to the zoo.”

The new entrance is now a two-story building that includes a new gift shop, ticket booths with eight lanes, restrooms, two family rooms and a sensory inclusive room for children with autism, along with other features to accommodate guests of all ages.

Birmingham Zoo finds fancy way to say hello with renovated entrance from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Several projects are also in the works for the zoo, such as a new golden eagle exhibit, a red panda exhibit and renovations to the flamingo exhibit so guests can better interact with them.

“It’s very exciting to see everybody come back and enjoy the new space,” Pfefferkorn said. “We would love to always be building animal exhibits, but we also have to build people spaces at the same time so that we grow together.”

Learn more about elephant conservation and ways to get involved with Birmingham Zoo here.

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