N.C. Zoo and Elephants Project | Project Discovery

The North Carolina Zoo, located in Asheboro, NC, is one of only two state-owned and -operated zoos in the country. With 1,400 acres, it is also one of the largest in land area. The zoo, with its “natural habitat” philosophy, replicates the natural environments of the animals that live there. Forty-acre exhibits house the animals and ecosystems that support them. Designers, architects, artists, horticulturists, and an in-house design team all help with the plans for each exhibit.

Zoogeographic zones represent each of the seven continental regions. In the 1970s, the African continent was constructed; the zoo is now in the process of renovating that exhibit. In the 1980s, the North American continent was constructed, and 1,200 animals were added to the zoo’s collection.

The animals in the North Carolina Zoo’s collection come from other zoos, and are no longer captured in the wild. The zoo actively participates in the Species Survival Plan, a program that breeds and manages captive endangered species. Species such as the red wolf have been brought back from near extinction, and are currently being reintroduced into the wild. Captive breeding allows the zoo to access, via computer, the medical records and breeding histories of many zoos in the country.

Cameroon, West Africa, is a site that North Carolina Zoo supports for its work with wild elephants. Because elephants can cause a great deal of damage to agriculturally supported villages, humans threaten the populations of the animals in West Africa. The Elephant in Ecology Project, conducted through the World Wildlife Fund, educates villages, protects the elephants, and reduces the damage done during migration.

The management program tracks herds of elephants for a five-year period. These animals can migrate up to 2,000 miles in one year in their search for food and water sources. For tracking, the elephants are anesthetized and an intertracheal tube is inserted to help them breathe. Researchers collect information on each elephant and attach a collar. The matriarch of the herd is fitted with a collar containing a radio transmitter, which conveys information about the herd’s location to French space agency satellites.