NORFOLK—The two elephants that have been at the Virginia Zoo for nearly 50 years combined may find a new home soon.
The Virginian–Pilot reported Thursday that the zoo’s executive director, Greg Bockheim, said this week that he is planning to relocate the elderly elephants as long as he can find a zoo to accept them that has certain characteristics, including a warmer climate, more space and more social interaction with other elephants. In their place, the zoo plans to bring in additional white rhinos.
“I think, initially, it certainly was shocking for everyone to think, ‘How can you have a zoo without elephants?’” Bockheim said.
It’s a seismic shift for a zoo that has had an elephant exhibit—the zoo’s most popular animals—for decades. Lisa, 42, has lived at the zoo since 1976. Cita, 47, who arrived in 2005, is one of the oldest animals at the zoo. She’s also a movie star, according to the zoo’s website, with appearances in “The Color Purple” and “Sheena: Queen of the Jungle.”
White rhinos are a better fit for the Virginia Zoo, particularly because of the zoo’s desire to support wildlife sustainability, Bockheim said. White rhinos are far more scarce than elephants, can breed more easily in captivity than elephants and are more socially adaptable.
“You can bring visitors closer to them, so our plan would be to make that exhibit more immersive, where you can pet the animals or feed the animals,” Bockheim said. “Elephants, of course, you have to keep people pretty far away from.”
Bockheim said he doesn’t know how long it could take to find them a new home. An official from another zoo was visiting the elephants this week.