Animal Tales

Elephant Update

If you’ve been at the Milwaukee County Zoo in the past year, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the huge construction project happening on the south end of the grounds. Crews are building a new, much larger elephant exhibit and barn in the former moose area. We got the inside scoop on the exhibit from Tim Wild, Zoo curator of large mammals. You can help finish the elephant exhibit and support new exhibits for hippos and rhinos by visiting

Elephant Brittany

Elephant Brittany

Why is the Zoo constructing a new elephant exhibit?

Elephant welfare has been studied a lot in recent years. The amount of space the elephants have, the ability to live in appropriate social groups, and the chance to enjoy a complex and enriching environment have all been scientifically shown to improve elephant well-being. We are trying to provide all of that for our animals, and our current space has limitations to accomplishing our goals. Modern standards from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums require us to have space to hold more than two elephants, but that’s not the main reason we’re doing this. We are doing this because it’s the best thing for our animals.

Describe the new exhibit. How will it be different for the elephants?

The biggest differences will be in the amount of outdoor space the elephants have, the opportunity to go outside into a semi-heated area in winter, softer flooring inside the barn to facilitate joint health as the elephants age and a number of built-in enrichment areas. The pool will be bigger and more welcoming. In winter, visitors will be able to watch training sessions with the elephants and exercise programs that keep them healthy and fit. We will also have better equipment for medical care.

When will the new exhibit open?

It officially opens in spring 2019, but the animals and staff will be able to get acclimated to the new building before it opens to Zoo guests.

Adventure Africa construction

Crews work on the foundation for the barn as part of the new elephant exhibit set to open in spring 2019.

Why does the construction take so long?

The design process took almost a year in itself. There were many other stakeholders besides animal care staff who had input into the exhibit area, including representatives of education, special events and operations. The construction takes so long mostly because of the scope of the project – the barn is a large building, and making it suitable for elephants is expensive. We also have to think about landscaping, visitor service areas, mechanical operations, plumbing and so on.

Will the new exhibit include other animals?

The elephants will have their own exhibit space, but the project encompasses two additional exhibits that will showcase other African animals. A new exhibit will feature impalas and zebras, and the old Australian yard will house our forest animals, the bongo and the yellow-backed duiker. Bird species, including African crowned cranes, will be added as space allows.

From the Spring 2018 issue of Alive