London Zoo's elephants revel in home from home

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The Independent Online

No one who saw London Zoo's departed elephants in their new home yesterday could doubt the decision to move them was for the better.

Dilberta, Mya and Layang-Layang, the three Asian elephants that were among the star attractions at the Regent's Park site until last month, have been moved 35 miles north to Whipsnade, the zoo's sister wild animal park in the Chilterns.

Their departure ended a 170-year-old tradition of keeping elephants in central London. It also upset some of the zoo's supporters, who saw them as its most recognisable symbols and biggest attractions, and thought the decision to relocate them was merely political correctness.

But when the Regent's Park Three went on show at Whipsnade yesterday it was at once apparent that there was no comparison between the cramped quarters they had endured in London and their spacious new home. They now live in a series of sweeping green enclosures whose total area stretches to more than seven acres – about 10 times the size of the elephant house and paddock in London.

The Zoological Society of London, the owner of both zoos, has insisted all along that the move has been made to build a breeding herd of Asian elephants, which are now far more endangered than African elephants and could be extinct in the wild within 30 years.

And indeed Dilberta, Mya and Layang-Layang, all females, have joined a group of three more females – Kaylee, and Lucha and Anna who are both pregnant by Emmett, the young Whipsnade bull.

The elephant pavilion that the three have left behind – though designed by the acclaimed modernist architect Sir Hugh Casson – was felt by many people to be simply too small to house very big animals appropriately.

Because the 1965 building was listed, as are many of the zoo's structures, it could not easily be expanded.

The Zoological Society has spent about £4m on Whipsnade's new elephant facilities, which include a pool, mud wallows, dust baths, shades for summer, rubbing posts and high-level feeders.

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