Friday, February 22, 2013

Fellsmere's National Elephant Center ready to take animals

John Lehnhardt (left), the executive director of the National Elephant Center, laughs with Jackie Ogden, vice president of Animals, Science and Environment for Disney, during the unveiling of the newly constructed barn at the center in Fellsmere on Wednesday afternoon.

FELLSMERE — The National Elephant Center, which was a dream for 20 years and a building plan for 10 months, is no longer just a dream or a plan.
“We are a facility capable now of taking elephants,” Executive Director John Lehnhardt said Wednesday, after celebrating the completion of the 30-acre first phase.
Some 50 Fellsmere city officials, Indian River County officials, local business and community leaders and board members of the center gathered to hail the project so far and look to future phases.
“I’m always asked when the elephants are coming,” new board Chairman Keith Winsten told the crowd. “And the answer is we can’t give you a real date.”
While the month of April has been discussed, Lehnhardt would only say “by late spring.” He said he has had numerous discussions with various zoo officials, but said he doesn’t have any agreements.
Now, however, he said, the discussions will become more serious and lead to agreements because he has a facility to offer.
The center occupies 225 acres on Fellsmere Grade, about 3 miles north of downtown Fellsmere. It’s a collaboration of 73 zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The center is planned to provide a place for aging elephants, transient animals being relocated from one zoo to another and permanent elephants whose original zoos no longer can keep them.
Melbourne’s M.H. Williams Construction Inc. broke ground in April on the first phase, with the keeper’s station, an all-metal barn and four paddocks and enough pasture and ponds for up to nine elephants.
“I am so impressed with the size,” Phil Flynn, executive director of Fort Pierce’s Save the Chimps sanctuary, said as he gazed around the barn. “With chimps, everything is smaller, but this is so huge.”
In fact, figures show the 13,000-square-foot structure, open to the air, rises to a roof peak at 30 feet high.
Lehnhardt said the new elephants will arrive in the barn and be kept in quarantine for a week or so — unless their individual health calls for a longer stay — while staffers outside the bars feed them various elephant grasses, scoop up waste, go over their records, introduce them to any resident elephants, shower them and teach them how to respond to positive reinforcement.
Jeff Bolling, the center’s chief operating officer, said the walls in the barn will be movable so elephants can meet or be kept apart as needed.
“If two bulls are in must and want to fight, I can keep them separate,” he said. “They don’t ever have to meet.”
Meanwhile, board members chose Winsten, the executive director of the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, to succeed Rick Borangi, director of the Houston Zoo, as chairman of the National Elephant Center board of directors.
The board previously stressed elephant experience in choosing members, Borangi said. But the new direction focuses more on local affiliation.
“You don’t have any elephants, so this could be an extension of your zoo,” Borangi joked to Winsten.

Courtesy of John Goodall


"The board previously stressed elephant experience in choosing members, Borangi said."  As it should be, with not other consideration........'

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