Niabi Zoo Elephants To Be Moved - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Niabi Zoo Elephants To Be Moved

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The fate of the Niabi Zoo elephants has been decided. Babe and Sophie will be going to a new home.

The Rock Island County Forest Preserve Commission voted unanimously in favor of transferring the animals to another facility on loan.

"It's sad to think that we're going to lose the elephants, but it's best, you know, it's best for those elephants," Steven Ballard, president of the Forest Preserve Commission, said.

The elephant management expert who visited Niabi Zoo a few months ago says Babe and Sophie need to be moved to a zoo or sanctuary where the climate is warmer, there's a bigger herd, and the year-round facilities are upgraded, among other needs.

That expert, Alan Roocroft, will now help the Forest Preservation Commission find the elephants a more suitable home.

There has been no talk yet about where specifically they may go. Commissioners voted simply to get process started.

The decision to loan out the elephants means county officials will continue to have a say in their future.

Loaning out animals is actually a pretty common practice in the zoo world. There are several animals in the QCA now on loan to the Niabi Zoo. One example: the snow leopard.

"He's on loan from the Toronto Zoo," Niabi Zoo Director Marc Heinzman explained, "He's staying here, but they do officially retain ownership of him."

That's the whole idea behind sending Babe and Sophie to a different facility on loan.

Where ever they end up, that facility will be responsible for the animals' care and maintenance - and covering the cost of that. But, Rock Island County's Forest Preserve Commission would still own the elephants.

That means they'd still be able to keep tabs on Babe and Sophie, and to decide if the new home is the best home for the pair:

"If we're moving them out of the Quad Cities, Niabi Zoo, we need to be assured that wherever they go, they're still being protected and being treated the way they should be in the final years of their lives, so that's important," Ballard said.

Rock Island County Board Chairman Phillip Banaszek says it's that loan arrangement, rather than having to sign over ownership completely, that made the decision to re-home the elephants a lot easier for many Forest Preserve Commission members to make.

"I think it's a factor. There's no doubt about it," he said, "It's a huge issue and you want to make sure you make the right decision for them"

"And whatever safeguards you can put in, I think, is beneficial too," Banaszek added.

Technically, because they're on loan, Niabi Zoo could take its elephants back someday. That said, there's no intention now of doing that.

"Just because of all the requirements that they have, especially with the weather, the climate is very tough on them. And that's obviously something that we can't change, no matter how much time passes," Heinzman explained.

But, by loaning out Babe and Sophie, officials here retain veto power if the facility they're sent to decides to re-home them again.

"The most important thing is we're giving them the best life possible," Heinzman said.

Tuesday night's vote is just one more step in the process to get Babe and Sophie the best situation they can get.

Earlier this year, elephant management expert Alan Roocroft came in to assess their living conditions at Niabi. Roocroft presented his findings at a public hearing last month.

The decision this week gets the ball rolling for an actual move.

The next step is for county leaders to work with Roocroft to find the elephants a new home and then work out the details of the loan agreement.

There's no exact timeline of when they'll actually be transferred, but everyone agrees, they need to do it before winter weather sets in again in the QCA.

That gives the Forest Commission a few months to sort this out.

Elephants have been part of Niabi Zoo since the mid-1960s.

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