The story of Project Elephant begins many many years ago, when the idea for a brand new elephant house first came to our minds. For years we were kept busy with secret meetings; talking about our ideas and looking at architect drawings… until two years ago on a drizzly day in January, when our plans were finally submitted to the local council for approval.
We were about to embark upon the single biggest development in our 45-year history and it was certainly something we wanted to shout about.
Fast forward 6 months from that day and we finally broke ground on our biggest ever development. That’s the day our dreams finally started to become a reality.
By October 2016, what was once an unused green field at the back of the zoo resembled something more like a swamp… there was mud everywhere. But to the trained eye, we could see the footprint of what would soon become home to Asian elephants.
In February 2017, we had an actual building with walls and a roof. It still looked very much like a building site, but again, with just a little imagination we could see what it would one day become.
Much of the work from this point on was on the internal fixtures and fittings – we’ve had teams in installing everything from electrics, plumbing, networking, fire alarms, hydraulics and much more.
In April 2017 we opened the shutters on the brand new Nawala Street Food kiosk. With immersive Asian theming and an exciting menu of Asian inspired food all at the entrance to the Dinosaur Safari, Nawala Street Food will set the scene for your journey to Project Elephant.
July saw the arrival of a big green box in Kate’s old paddock – the crate which would be key to moving her into her new home. Through the months that followed, Kate’s keepers worked meticulously to ensure that she was happy going into and out of her crate.
By September, Kate’s keepers decided that she was ready for the big move. The transport was booked, the day was planned down to the smallest detail and she was off on her big adventure.
It was impossible to predict how Kate would react to the move and to her new home, but she took it all in her stride and has settled in fabulously.
While all this had been going on, our senior animal staff were deep in discussions with the EEP Coordinator (that’s the European Breeding Programme Coordinator for Asian Elephants) to find some new elephants to join our herd. If you’ve been following our story for a while now, you’ll realise that isn’t quite as simple as it might sound.
It was important that we could find a group of elephants who would stand the best chance of getting on with Kate. The team flew around Europe to meet potential herd-mates, chatting to their keepers and talking logistics. We had an option lined up around this time last year, but unfortunately it later turned out not to be a suitable choice. In November 2017, after months of discussions and planning we were finally confident enough to announce that we had found a group of elephants who would one day call Blackpool Zoo home – four lovely females currently living at Twycross Zoo.
Our Elephant Keepers spent the winter taking regular trips down to Twycross so that they could get to know the four girls, and equally so that the girls could get to know them. The Twycross elephants are now happily going in and out of their crates and are very nearly ready for the big move. We’re keeping everything crossed that this means they’ll be with us in just a matter of weeks, or even days!
Once our new elephants arrive, we’ll be keeping a close eye on them as they settle into their new home. We have no immediate plans to open the house to the public, it’s important that all residents are happy and comfortable in their surroundings before we do that. The new house allows us to keep our elephants physically separate, whilst still allowing them to see, smell and hear each other and from watching those behaviours, our keepers will be able to plan the best approach for introductions.
While the new house is certainly the biggest and most noticeable step in our journey, Project Elephant is about much more than a house. It’s a symbol of our long-term commitment to elephants and we can’t wait to tell you more about it over the coming months!! That being said, we’re hoping to be able to finally open the doors on our brand new elephant house ready for Easter 2018.