Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Two new elephants are roaming at the just-completed exhibit at Reid Park Zoo this week: a male named Mabu and a female named Lungile. They're the first of a new breeding herd to come here from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
However, there have been concerns about Mabu's possible involvement in the death of another elephant before coming to Tucson.
Vivian VanPeenan, Reid Park Zoo's Curator of Education, said the transition of the new elephant herd into their exhibit took years to plan.
"It is a really great opportunity for Tucson not only to have an amazing exhibit to interact with elephants, but to learn from them throughout their lives," VanPeenan said.
9 On Your Side has learned that Mabu, who at 5 tons weights twice as much as female elephants, was part of a San Diego herd that saw the death of another elephant named Umoya. She died of traumatic injuries last November.
"We don't know if that occurred from the result of a fall, if elephants got scared and bumped each other or if there was some kind of scuffle," said Christina Simmons, spokesperson for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. "Whatever happened, happened very quickly before keepers could see or intervene. They are very big animals, they move very quickly."
Sources told KGUN9 News Mabu and Umoya spent a lot of time together. But officials don't know if another elephant was involved in the death and if so - which one it might have been.
9OYS asked whether there is anything caretakers can do to prevent the same thing from happening at Reid Park.
"No…We maintain our elephants very much like they would it the wild. They have the same social systems and the same social grouping," Simmons said. "There are sometimes scuffles or pushing, shoving or even flight responses that cause them to bump into each other."
Van Peenan said they are focused on making the transition seamless, modeling the training and language at Reid Park Zoo after San Diego. They said Mabu and Lunguile are happy and healthy in their new home.
"They arrived here with no issues. They walked into the new barn like they owned the place and have been amazingly calm," VanPeenan said.
Three more elephants will join the herd in two weeks - another female and her two young boys. The new exhibit will open at the end of March.
Zookeepers said Connie and Shaba, the other two elephants, are getting acclimated to their crates and will soon be transported to San Diego.