Longtime zoo elephants to be relocated


For more than 30 years, Asian elephant Connie has been a beloved resident of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Now, as she prepares to embark on a new adventure with her close companion, male elephant Hank, the community is invited to join the zoo for a celebration to show Connie, who will turn 50 later this year, and Hank just how much they mean to central Ohio and the future of their species.

A special 50th birthday celebration will be held inside the Columbus Zoo’s Asian Elephant Conservation Center in the Asia Quest region on Saturday, June 15 at 1:30 p.m. Guests are invited to come celebrate Connie’s milestone and bid their farewell wishes to Connie and Hank. In honor of Connie’s golden birthday, her devoted care team and volunteers have created special Golden Girls-inspired enrichment for her and Hank to enjoy. Pins and hand stamps will be available for guests, and fun and heartwarming photos of Connie throughout the years will be available for guests to view as they fondly reminisce.

“Connie has been with us longer than any other elephant currently in our care, and we will miss her dearly,” said Adam Felts, senior curator of animal care and director of animal wellbeing. “We know, however, that this move is in the best interest of Connie and Hank, and we’re celebrating them both so our care team, volunteers, and all who love them can join us and be a part of this occasion.”

Connie first arrived at the Columbus Zoo from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1992. Hank, born at Busch Gardens in Tampa in 1988, came to the Columbus Zoo in 2011 from the former Riddles Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary in Greenbrier, Arkansas.

Connie and Hank will move to another zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Staff at this facility are looking forward to welcoming them and will share this exciting announcement with their community soon.

The move follows a recommendation for Hank to continue contributing to efforts to help keep elephants in North American zoos genetically diverse through the Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan (SSP), a national program managed by the AZA. It is common for male elephants to move between herds in their native ranges, and zoos collaborate and work to replicate this natural behavior. The decision to move Hank is also part of a larger AZA elephant strategic plan to ensure elephants thrive in professional care and are around for future generations, supporting the overall survival of the species.

Because Connie is so closely bonded with Hank, who has been at the Columbus Zoo for 13 years, the elephant care leadership team feels strongly that it is in Connie and Hank’s best interest to keep them together.

“This move plays an important role in Asian elephant conservation efforts, but it is also important that Connie and Hank stay together due to their deep bond,” Felts said. “While it will be difficult for us and our zoo community, who has grown to love them over the years, to say goodbye, for Connie and Hank, what matters most is the dynamics between these two elephants.”

Felts said that Connie, who prefers to spend time romping in the mud whenever possible, often prefers the company of older elephants over rambunctious younger elephants in the herd like soon-to-be 3-year-old male Frankie, and so she looks to Hank for companionship. Standing 9 feet 5 inches tall and weighing eight tons, Hank is known as a gentle giant.

“With his calm demeanor but imposing stature as one of the largest elephants in North America, Hank brings commanding leadership to a herd,” Felts said. “Other elephants follow his lead, and Connie is comforted by his guidance.”

Following Hank and Connie’s departure, the Columbus Zoo expects to welcome additional SSP-recommended breeding bulls in the future. This includes Raja from Saint Louis Zoo, who will move to the Columbus Zoo as part of the SSP. His arrival date has not yet been determined, but he has been a well-loved member of the Saint Louis Zoo, where he sired three daughters. The Columbus Zoo looks forward to introducing him to the herd once the official move takes place.

Additionally, in the coming months, male elephant Sabu will return to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. Sabu arrived at the Columbus Zoo in 2022 for a temporary stay during the construction of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Elephant Trek habitat, which is almost complete. During his time at the Columbus Zoo, Sabu got along well with females Rudy, Sundara (Sunny), Phoebe, and Phoebe’s son, Frankie (sired by Hank), all of whom remain at the Columbus Zoo.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Asian elephants are listed as endangered in their native range across southern and southeastern Asia and are in decline due to various factors including habitat loss/degradation and poaching. The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) estimates there are 40-50,000 Asian elephants remaining.

The Columbus Zoo is deeply committed to working to save elephants in their native range and to contributing to a robust breeding program in North American zoos. The Columbus Zoo is a long-time supporter of several impactful Asian elephant organizations and programs such as the International Elephant Foundation. Many of these projects have focused on reducing human-elephant conflict and monitoring elephant populations in their native ranges. Additionally, Columbus Zoo staff leads AZA’s SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Asian Elephant Program, an AZA initiative to leverage their large audiences and collective expertise to save animals from extinction.

Recently, the Columbus Zoo has also established the Center for Species Survival for Asian Elephant (CSS: Asian Elephant) in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission. Located in Assam, India, the center is the world’s first CSS conservation hub exclusively dedicated to a single species and uniquely located within the heart of the species’ native range. Asian elephants face numerous threats across their 13 range countries. To counter these challenges, CSS: Asian Elephant partners are building on their global connections and collaborating to address the threats the countries have identified as conservation priorities.

For additional updates about the Columbus Zoo, conservation initiatives, events, and more, follow the zoo’s social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, X, and TikTok, and visit us at columbuszoo.org.

Submitted by the Columbus Zoo.

No posts to display