Wednesday, staff at the Little Rock Zoo said Niabi Zoo elephants Babe and Sophie are adjusting well to their new home in Arkansas.
“They’re doing great. The first day, we couldn’t have asked for anything better from them,” said elephant manager Christine Del Turco.
Sunday night, Babe and Sophie traveled more than 600 miles from Coal Valley, Illinois, to Little Rock. Zoo staff said the pair started barking, chirping and trumpeting when they were first let out in their new yard.
“They had a lot of fun out in the yard, throwing hay and dirt all over themselves, digging holes, making trenches just like an elephant would. They seemed extremely happy,” said Del Turco.
While there was snow on the ground Tuesday at Niabi, zoo keepers were still wearing shorts in Little Rock.
“They can be outside during the day all year long, unless there’s ice,” said Del Turco.
Staff are slowly introducing Babe and Sophie to each of three outside yards. The pair are also slowly meeting Little Rock Zoo’s other elephant, Zina. The goal is to keep all three together and eventually add a fourth elephant to the herd.
“These girls are old, but Zina’s even older, so we’ve got to make sure everybody is safe and see how temperaments go with everybody, how they get along and things like that,” said Del Turco.
Zina and Sophie have actually met before — the two were in their first circus together, the Billy Smart Circus in the United Kingdom.
“When we let them see each other yesterday, they immediately ran over to one another, started fanning their ears out and greeting each other,” said Del Turco.
Zoo Director Mike Blakely said the Little Rock Zoo has been looking for additional companions for its elephants for several years. AZA accreditation requires that the social animals be kept in groups of at least three, and Blakely said the staff is both relieved and excited to welcome Babe and Sophie.
“We’ve had elephants for decades here, the staff is very well trained on those animals, and the community as a whole is really committed to the elephant program,” said Blakely.
Visitors to the Zoo Wednesday were also excited to see the newest pair.
“They’re beautiful,” said guests from Shreveport, Louisiana. “We were in town for a family event and heard that the two elephants were here, so we just wanted to come and show the girls.”
Staff at the Little Rock Zoo said they hope to make Babe and Sophie’s new home very similar to their old one — they’ll still exercise, paint pictures, and grow old together.
“No plans to separate those two. They’re more than best friends, they’re like sisters,” said Del Turco.