Baton Rouge Zoo soon will be without an elephant

BR’s elephant packing its trunk for trek to Washington, D.C.

When 37-year-old Bozie moves to Washington, D.C., in a few weeks, BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo will be without an elephant for the first time in more than four decades.

After Judy, one of two Asian elephants at the Baton Rouge Zoo, died in March, keepers began making plans to move Bozie to a zoo more equipped to care for her.

“We knew we needed to take Bozie’s interest in mind and that was sending her to another accredited zoo,” said Phil Frost, director of BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo.

Elephants are social animals and need to be with other elephants, he said.

Bozie will be the fourth elephant in the National Zoo’s new Elephant Trails exhibit, which opened this year and can hold eight to 10 elephants, Frost said.

“I saw it last fall,” he said. “It is an absolutely fabulous exhibit.”

The Baton Rouge Zoo’s current elephant enclosure, built in the 1960s, is no longer adequate, Frost said. It held a maximum of two elephants, he said, but the Association of Zoos and Aquariums no longer accredit zoos that exhibit fewer than three elephants.

“There are other things in terms of occupational safety for our staff that would require major modifications to our facility,” Frost said. “There was no way to improve the exhibit we had to hold three elephants.”

The departure of Bozie means BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo will be without an elephant exhibit for the first time since 1970, Frost said.

The man largely responsible for bringing elephants to the Baton Rouge Zoo in the first place said he was sad to see them go but understands why the move is being made.

“Phil and I had an extensive conversation,” said “Buckskin” Bill Black, who in the 1960s campaigned on his children’s show on WAFB-TV for kids to send in pennies to purchase an elephant. “I am excited about the next stage.”

When the pennies were collected, Black had enough to purchase two elephants, which were named Penny and Penny Two.

Frost said the zoo may one day house elephants again. He said discussions so far have focused on building a new, state-of-the-art African elephant display — a process that could take three or four years.

“We are just exploring all possibilities right now,” Frost said. “We have more room in that area of the zoo, but it would mean starting from scratch.”

Black said he looks forward to a new exhibit.

“I said, ‘Let’s build the best in the world,’ ” Black said, referring to his conversation with Frost.

The zoo will host a going-away party for Bozie on May 18, Frost said.

Shortly after that — Frost refused to give a specific date — the 9-foot-tall, 8,500-pound pachyderm will be loaded onto a specially equipped truck to begin the trip to the National Zoo, Frost said.

It won’t be her first trip.

Several years ago, Bozie was sent to a zoo in Missouri for breeding, Frost said. But Bozie didn’t get pregnant and eventually returned to Baton Rouge.

This time, however, she won’t be coming back home.

“It’s sad because she’s leaving a void,” he said. “She’s been here a long time, for a lot of people.”

Bozie has been at BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo since 1997, Frost said.

Bozie, who is from Sri Lanka, likes to paint, Frost said. One of her paintings had been auctioned on eBay and the proceeds sent to tsunami victims in her native country, Frost said.

Bozie also had art work displayed in a show at LSU, he said.

Frost was confident the National Zoo was the right choice.

“We considered numerous zoos, there were a lot that were interested,” Frost said. The National Zoo “will be a great place for her to go.”