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Columbus Zoo welcomes Hank, largest elephant in North America

Courtesy of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Weighing in at 15,600 pounds, or about 7 metric tons, Hank the elephant – the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s newest and largest animal – was recently revealed to the public.

“We’re pretty certain he’s the largest Asian elephant in North America in an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) zoo,” said Harry Peachey, the zoo’s elephant manager and assistant curator of mainland Asia.

The Columbus Zoo received Hank on Dec. 8, 2011, from the Riddles Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary in Arkansas, but zoo policies required him to spend 30 days in quarantine before most of the zoo staff and public could see him, on Jan 13.

Peachey said Hank was brought in for the main goal of breeding with the zoo’s two long-time resident females, Connie and Phoebe. The zoo has produced two calves in the past and Hank has proven to be a successful breeder once before, though his offspring did not survive into adulthood, Peachey said.

For now, Hank is on display to the public only on weekends from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and spends his weekdays getting acquainted with the other elephants, according to the zoo’s website.

“He’s not actually sharing an enclosure with the other elephants yet, we do what’s called a ‘Howdy’ where he gets to see and interact with the other animals through a wall of horizontal metal bars,” Peachey said. “The animals get to see, touch, smell one another in a controlled environment.”

Sarah Peterson, third-year in zoology and president of OSU’s zoology club, said bringing in an elephant from a different facility, especially one of Hank’s size, is good for keeping diversity in breeding.

“Breeding with most big animals like elephants is pretty hard,” Peterson said. “Elephants, gorillas, pandas and the larger intelligent species have to actually like each other and get to know each other. They can tell the difference between the different individuals in a group.”

Hank turned 24 years old on Jan. 16, so he is still a younger adult elephant.

Peachey said though different male elephants can have a range of personalities, Hank’s interaction with the other elephants and zoo workers has been calm and friendly. The two females, Connie and Phoebe, and Phoebe’s 2-year-old male calf, Beco, have responded positively to Hank as well.

Female elephants in the wild typically live within a matriarchal social system where several generations of daughters, mothers and grandmothers stay together for life, with different males coming in and out. Peachey said elephants in captivity are usually the same and most females should stay where they are for the duration of their life.

“We try to keep things consistent,” Peachey said. “Essentially we’ll want to keep these four animals together, and I don’t see the females having a problem with having a large male around. They lived well with a male named Coco for a number of years before we got Hank.”

Coco died unexpectedly in February 2011 at the Columbus Zoo.

Peachey said he doesn’t see there being a problem between Hank and the much smaller Beco, but the current “howdy” situation ensures safety while the two get to know each other.

“Right now Beco is with his mom, Phoebe, who doesn’t show any sign of wanting to push him out yet,” Peachey said.

The four animals’ progress with interaction will determine when they will get to live together on display, but Peachey said he expects Hank to draw in crowds this spring and summer.

A previous version of the article stated “most elephants live to be 70 or 80 years old.” That is not true, in fact, the average lifespan is about 40-50 years.

One comment

  1. My mother and I “adopted” Hank in 2008 by giving a donation for his food and supplies for a year to Riddle’s Sanctuary. Can I be told why he was removed from there and transferred to a zoo. As an animal advocate, I’m just concerned.

    Thank you.

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