To make way for an expanded Association of Zoos & Aquariums-compliant elephant exhibit, the Milwaukee County Zoo will close its moose exhibit in the near future and eventually transfer the animals to a different zoo.
Milwaukee County issued a request for a new $10 to $15 million African Elephant exhibit at the zoo in 2015 after questions were raised by animal rights groups about the suitability of the zoo’s current elephant facilities.
The cost of the project will be split between Milwaukee County and the Zoological Society of Milwaukee over the next three years. Plans include expanding the elephant exhibit to a 5-acre habitat with indoor quarters, a watering hole, a 12,000- to 15,000-square-foot elephant barn and holding facilities that could fit as many as five African bull elephants.
In January 2015, the Milwaukee County Zoo was called one of the “10 Worst Zoos to be an Elephant” by an online animal rights group called “The Dodo.” The site mentioned the exhibit’s small indoor space to shelter the elephants during inclement weather. The exhibit was also called out in the 2014 In Defense of Animals report.
Zoo spokesperson Laura Pedriani said the zoo will start construction on the new exhibit this year, but the timeline for when the moose will need to be moved out hasn’t been set.
“Some sort of construction is starting this year, but whether it is in the moose yard is not determined,” Pedriani said.
The current elephant exhibit, which was one of the first built when the zoo relocated from its former location in Washington Park in 1958, does not meet modern AZA standards.
The county plans to relocate the elephants to the area of the zoo currently occupied by the moose, brown bear and wolf exhibit yards, according to a Request For Proposal dated Sept. 10.
Pedriani said there is only one wolf remaining at the Wolf Woods exhibit, which opened in 1985. The exhibit at one time included a family of four wolves, but the rest have since grown old and died.
“He’s a senior, he’s an elderly wolf,” Pedriani said of the remaining wolf. “When he dies, we won’t replace him because that wolf (yard) could very well also be used for the expansion.”
The Australia exhibit is located directly south of Wolf Woods and includes kangaroos and emus. Pedriani said a definitive decision has not been made on whether the zoo will permanently close the exhibit while it undergoes extensive renovations over the next few years and use the space for the expanded elephant exhibit.
“They may be considering it, but there are no plans at this time,” Pedriani said.
Construction began last year on a new west parking lot at the zoo. Pedriani said the zoo could begin building its planned west entry buildings, which will include concessions, bathrooms, admission offices and a new otter exhibit, this year.