Louisville Zoo plans $3 million update to elephant exhibit - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Louisville Zoo plans $3 million update to elephant exhibit

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Administrators will add protective walls to comply with an Association of Zoos and Aquariums requirement that zoos eliminate free contact between elephants and workers. Administrators will add protective walls to comply with an Association of Zoos and Aquariums requirement that zoos eliminate free contact between elephants and workers.
John Walczak John Walczak

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Louisville Zoo's elephant exhibit will undergo a multi-million renovation to come into compliance with national safety standards and improve visitors' experience.

Administrators will add protective walls to meet an Association of Zoos and Aquariums requirement that zoos eliminate free contact between elephants and workers. The organization made the rule change in 2011 after a zookeeper's death at a Tennessee zoo.

The Louisville Zoo has until Jan. 1, 2016, to make the changes. Director John Walczak said he was "confident" the zoo would comply by upgrading the exhibit.

"We're looking at these standard changes as a huge opportunity," Walczak said. "It's not just to meet them, but how can we exceed them?"

Walczak said the zoo has preliminary designs that will double the size of the exhibit and add one or two areas where the public can get closer to keepers as they interact with elephants behind a reinforced access wall.

Construction of the wall, improvements to the exhibit, and relocating the paved path around the area will cost about $3 million, Walczak said.

The zoo is currently asking its major donors for assistance, and others can visit the zoo's website to donate.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums decided to strengthen its safety standards after an elephant killed a worker in Knoxville, Tenn., in January 2011.

A four-ton elephant named Edie pushed zookeeper Stephanie James into a stall at the Knoxville Zoo. James later died from internal injuries she suffered during the accident.

"They may be friendly and everything else, but you've always go to be aware that they are wild animals," Ron James, the victim's father, told WBIR-TV after the incident.

Louisville Zoo administrators have know about the national standards and have been planning how to make changes for several months, Walczak said.

To visit the zoo's website, click here.

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