Elephants Explore Willow Plantation

The opening of a home-grown plantation for our African elephants, Shaka and Janu, is a significant milestone. Following a decade of planning, forest management and the building of a state-of-the-art elephant facility, our bull elephants ventured into their very own plantation. The inclusion of a 5,000sqm plantation within an elephant enclosure is the first of its kind in the UK. This verdant section of the elephants’ enclosure is home to willow, aspen, and poplar as well as other delicious elephant-friendly snacks.

Elephants continuously eat and graze for up to 16 hours a day and the elephant team hopes this new green buffet will be a huge hit with the two bull elephants within their care. The opening of the large forest area encourages natural browsing behaviours for both Shaka who weighs 4,500Kg and Janu who weighs in at 4,100Kg.

Preparing for a variety of scenarios that could take place was important for the team, the elephants had free reign to explore in their own time.  They may have moved directly to the plantation or feasted on the extra-long grass.

Several cameras were located along the route with additional cameras being operated to ensure the elephants’ first foray into this unknown territory was caught on film. To follow the movements of the elephants, we hired experienced wildlife photographer and drone operator Guillermo Armero and installed an “elephant proof Rock Cam” in a vantage spot within the plantation to record their historic first steps into the vegetation. 

“This is an exciting experiment and a first in the UK, we were unsure exactly how the elephants would react and move through the new territory.  We were extremely pleased with how the elephants reacted to the new habitat” said Tom Lindley, Elephant Section Leader.

Janu, the younger bull was eager to explore the new area moving quickly to the tree line and investigating. Shaka was initially content to eat the long grass to amble through the new area until he pushed through into the plantation. Janu joined him later and the pair explored for several hours. 

Elephant Eden is the largest habitat for elephants in the UK and Northern Europe with 20 acres of complex habitat including a pool and multiple sand yards. Early this year, we installed an outside field shelter complete with hanging barrel feeders which simulate natural browsing positions and help to maintain healthy muscles in their trunks, necks and shoulders.

Elephant Eden opened in February 2014. It is uniquely a bachelor elephant facility, providing a key supporting role in serving wider conservation efforts as part of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for African elephants.

We have an exceptional level of elephant husbandry care here at Noah's Ark and adhere to a protected contact philosophy. We accommodate the elephants with a larger space to roam than any other collection in the UK. Elephant Eden is complete with state-of-the-art deep sand floors, 24-hour access inside and outside, warm showers for the elephants and round-the-clock CCTV.

“It’s very exciting to have this plantation open inside the elephants’ habitat, this is a completely new large environment for them to explore and display natural behaviours,” said Chris Wilkinson, Zoo Curator.

Our keepers look forward to seeing the long-term reaction to the willow plantation by the resident bull elephants. Planted in 2013 at the margin of the 20-acre paddock, the trees have now fully matured and are ready for the elephants to explore and eat. This area is extra special since willow forms a regular part of their diet and they enjoy tree branches as part of their regular diet.

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