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Four Asian elephants to deploy from Wild Animal Park to San Diego Zoo

Ranchipur, a 42-year-old Asian elephant, spends his last days at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego.

How do you move four full-size Asian elephants 25 miles down Interstate 15 from the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park to the zoo for the new Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey?

That's the task facing the zoo's elephant keepers. For a year, keepers have been working with Ranchipur, Cookie, Mary and Cha-Cha. (Sunita, the matriarch, was also to make the move but died recently after a battle with cancer.)

Supervising the preparation is Jeff Andrews, the zoo's elephant program manager, who also orchestrated the airlift of seven African elephants from South Africa to the Wild Animal Park in 2003.

At the new exhibit, set to open May 23, the four Asian elephants will join the zoo's three resident elephants and two dozen other species, including jaguars and California condors. Also in the exhibit will be replicas of the elephants' ancestors.

But first, the training for the trip. "There is no dominance in our system," Andrews said. "We are not making them do anything."

Through a system of food rewards, the four elephants have been trained to voluntarily enter giant crates, which will be lifted by cranes onto tractor-trailers for the convoy, to be escorted by the California Highway Patrol and San Diego police.

The process, whose timing is a secret, will be an all-day affair.

"The animals will be fine,'' Andrews said. "The people will be very tired at the end of the day."

[UPDATE: The four elephants were moved without problems Saturday from the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park to the zoo.]

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Ranchipur, a 42-year-old Asian elephant, spends his last days at the Wild Animal Park. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.

 
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