Tulsa Zoo Opens Elephant Demonstration Yard

Editorial Assistant

PACHYDERM WATCH: Former Tulsa Zoo Director Larry Nunley, front, along with members of the current elephant staff attended the Demonstration Yard ribbon cutting ceremony April 13. Asian elephants Gunda, left, and Sooky, right, were brought out to take part in the ceremony. At left is Tulsa Zoo Friends CEO Keegan Young.

MIRANDA ENZOR for GTR Newspapers

After nine long months of construction, the Tulsa Zoo opened its Elephant Demonstration Yard April 13. The Demonstration Yard was dedicated to Larry Nunley for his 32 years of service with the Tulsa Zoo.

The Yard is located at the front of the Tulsa Zoo. Seating for the Demonstration Yard is designed to look like a stadium where visitors can watch the elephants as they interact with their keepers. Weather permitting, the Tulsa Zoo plans to host demonstrations daily at 11 a.m. through Oct. 31.

“It is truly an honor to be part of this elephant group,” Nunley said during the dedication ceremony.

The Tulsa Zoo is home to three Asian Elephants named Sneezy, Gunda and Sooky. There are two recognized species of elephants in the world: Asian and African. Elephants are the largest land mammal in the world and belong to the pachyderms class which means thick-skinned. They generally live 60-70 years, have the largest brains (up to 12 pounds) and can weigh tens-of-thousands of pounds. The most noticed versatile characteristic of elephants are their trunks, which contains more than 40,000 muscles and are used for defense, eating, drinking, smelling and covering their bodies with water or mud.

Sneezy is a 35-year-old male, or bull, elephant. He has called the Tulsa Zoo home since 1977 and is the most genetically valuable Asian Bull Elephant in North America. Many zoos do not keep male elephants because of their large size, strength and unpredictable nature. Sneezy, however, is quick learner and fairly tame. He is very intelligent, curious and loves to eat frozen fruit popsicles.

Gunda is 55-years-old and has lived at the Tulsa Zoo since 1954. She is one of two cow, or female, elephants in Tulsa and has lived at the zoo longer than any other animal. Like Sneezy, she is very curious, gentle and enjoys dousing herself in mud during hot summer days.

Sooky is also 35-years-old and has only lived in Tulsa for ten years. She is the most energetic and vocal elephant of the three. Sooky likes to be the star, which is clearly implied by her hobbies which include playing the harmonica and painting.

Besides giving the zoo a place to show off their Asian elephants, the Demonstration Yard also enhances compliance with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) standards, the governing body for Tulsa Zoo, as it allows the zoo to provide its elephants with additional reserve areas to roam. The expansion provides a larger, healthier environment for the zoo’s three elephants while providing additional management options for current and future elephants.

Updated 04-26-2007

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