4 elephants arrive at Indian River center

1st group of elephants comes to National Elephant Center

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The National Elephant Center's first residents, a family of four African elephants, socialize in a paddock outside the barn.

FELLSMERE, Fla. - The first round of elephants arrived at its pachyderm paradise last week in Fellsmere.

The family group — two females and two males — are the National Elephant Center's first residents.

They've been gallivanting among citrus groves at the professional elephant care facility, located on 225 acres of leased farm land near the Blue Cypress Conservation Area in Indian River County.

The center's mission is to advance elephant care in North America.

"We'll provide these animals and those that arrive in the future with the highest quality of animal care, inspired by our deep love of elephants," Keith Winsten, the center's board chair and ­executive director of the Brevard Zoo, said in a media release.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Elephant Species Survival Program supported the animals' move to the center, from Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando. They chose the elephants based on social dynamics, space and the accommodations, officials said.

The center's first $2.5 million phase, which included a 200-foot-long open-air, galvanized-metal barn, was recently finished. Up to nine elephants will one day hang out in the barn, even during hurricanes.

The $15 million center hopes to keep as many as three dozen elephants for long-term care.

For the most part, the center won't be open to the public, only for special trips for Brevard Zoo members and school groups. Accredited zoo workers and others throughout North America will be trained to care for elephants.

Brevard Zoo is consulting on the project.

Elephants will be able to roam freely, bound by perimeter fencing as well as large farming canals.

The center will take in abandoned elephants from private circuses, individuals who keep elephants as pets, the movie industry — basically any elephants that need long-term care. Elephants can live up to 60 years.

They also may eventually take diseased elephants for treatment.

There are about 300 elephants in captivity in North American zoos.

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