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Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

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August is Elephant Month at the Jacksonville Zoo!

In honor of World Elephant Day on August 12, and in support of 96 Elephants, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is featuring the African elephants as our adoption special for August. Adopt one of our elephants for yourself or as a gift at the special $75 level, and receive two Zoo admission tickets and a cuddly elephant plush with your adoption CarePak!

The animal adoption CarePak includes an Honorary Zookeeper certificate, biofacts and a photo of your adopted animal. All proceeds help in the care, feeding and housing of the animal sponsored, and your donation is tax deductible for one year.

Three ways to order:

  • Order online!
    • You can choose to allow your full donation to go to the care and feeding of the animals. If you choose to opt out of receiving thank-you gifts and to receive only a letter of appreciation, simply type ‘- ZOO’ in the order form after the name of the animal you are adopting. Example: ‘Squirrel Monkey - ZOO.’
  • Download an application and mail or fax it in.

  • Call (904) 757-4463, ext. 145 to place an order.

This donation is tax-deductible and is valid for a period of one year. Shipping is standard, USPS mail.  Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is not responsible for any delays in mail once shipped. Please allow 2-3 weeks for processing. No ownership rights are conferred with a donation to the program.

Animal Adoption Profile: African elephant “Ali”

Article by Mammal Keeper LeShea Upchurch

There are four African elephants that call the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens home; females Moki, Chana, and Sheena, and male Ali. The Zoo has had elephants since July 1926, with the arrival of Miss Chic, an Asian elephant. Sheena, who will be 31 in October, has been at the Zoo since 1985. Moki and Chana, both 32, came to the Zoo in 2006. Ali arrived from the late Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in 1997. At 24, Ali is the youngest elephant at the Jacksonville Zoo. He is also the largest. Ali is 9’6” tall at the shoulder and weighs almost 12,000 pounds!
Another way to tell Ali apart from the female elephants, in addition to his size, is that he appears to only have one tusk. Just like we are right or left handed, elephants can be right or left tusked. Ali is right tusk dominant and has worn that tusk down so far that it is difficult to see unless he has his trunk held up. Elephants use their tusks for a number of things including moving objects, digging up roots, breaking bark off of trees to eat, and for protection or competition. They will also use their tusks to dig up salt, which they consume to supplement their diet. Elephant tusks continue to grow throughout their lifetime, and can be worn down or break off. 


Male elephants are larger than females and can reach sexual maturity around the age of 10-14 years old under optimal conditions. Although a male can be sexually mature, he still has to go through a long period of growth and social development before he would be able to mate with females in the wild. A herd of elephants consists of a female matriarch, her female relatives, and their offspring. Once a male reaches sexual maturity he would be pushed out or leave the herd. He may then form a loose bachelor herd with other males or be solitary, especially when in musth. Musth is a time when males have higher testosterone, which causes them to be more aggressive. Musth in elephants has frequently been likened to rut in male deer.
Since it is difficult to move elephants from location to location, many facilities will artificially inseminate (AI) a female elephant with semen from a male at another facility. Since 2004, Ali has been trained for semen collections. He is one of only a few African bulls in the country that are semen donors for AI, and of those few, he is the most genetically valuable. Ali currently has two offspring from AI; Zahara, born in 2006 at the Indianapolis Zoo, and Jabali, born in 2011 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


Ali, along with the female elephants at the Jacksonville Zoo, is trained to do a number of behaviors, all of which help his keepers take better care of him. He is trained to present different body parts, such as his ears for blood draws. He is also trained to place his feet on foot stands so that keepers can perform footwork when needed. Ali is trained for X-rays and to stretch out and lie on his stomach as well. Lying on his stomach allows keepers to get a better look at his body during his daily bath routine and it also, along with several other behaviors, serves to stretch out different muscles and to give Ali extra exercise. He is also trained to shift through the ERD, or Elephant Restraint Device. In the ERD, keepers can perform semen collections, and also weigh the elephants on the built-in scale.

Enrichment and Diet

One of Ali’s favorite enrichments is a barrel, filled with produce. The barrel is enclosed at both ends and has small holes cut out of the sides. He will toss the barrel around and flip it over several times to get the produce inside to fall out. He has gotten very good at figuring out just which way to move the barrel to get to the produce. Ali also really enjoys stacking tires or hay on top of things. In the wild elephants eat browse, which is tree limbs, leaves, and bark, as well as a large amount of grasses and some fruits. Here at the Zoo we feed browse, some fruits and vegetables, hay, as well as a specially formulated elephant grain. Ali’s favorite food is his grain, but he also enjoys watermelons and browse. He will even push a large ball, which he is sometimes given as enrichment, to different places in the holding yards and stand on it to better reach his favorite types of browse! Another favorite enrichment item is a large tire, especially when filled with hay, browse, produce and ice treats! Ali will toss the tire around the yard or his room until everything comes out and he is able to go around and collect the treats that were inside.

Threats and Conservation

The IUCN Redlist, International Union for Conservation of Nature, lists the African elephant as Vulnerable. While elephants are rare in some parts of Africa, there are other parts where, due mainly to human encroachment into the elephant’s territory and fragmented habitats, the herd’s territories are being isolated. The main reasons elephants are vulnerable is due to poaching and habitat loss. Poaching remains the main reason for the declining numbers, which is mainly for the ivory. In 2012, around 35,000 elephants were killed by poachers. That makes an average of ninety-six elephants that are poached every day in Africa, which is where the campaign 96 Elephants gets their name. One of their goals is to raise awareness by getting one million signatures on their petition saying “I pledge that I will not buy or sell ivory, and I will support a moratorium on ivory products in my country.” You can sign this petition at 96Elephants.org. With this awareness they hope to secure U.S. legislation banning the buying and selling of ivory. A bill was recently passed in New York that will ban not only the buying and selling of ivory, but rhino horn as well.

African elephants can all live in the savannah or forest. The elephants that tend to spend more time in the forest tend to be smaller in size with straighter tusks than their savannah counterparts. Since 2002, three-quarters of the elephants in the Congo Basin were lost to poaching. We could see the African forest elephants almost extinct in the next 10 years! The savannah elephants, like Moki, Chana, Sheena and Ali, will not be far behind. The extinction of elephants will be devastating to their habitats, as they are imperative for the ecology. They disperse seeds over many miles, which allow plants to spread and grow. They also dig pools of water, both of which many other animals depend on.

These declining numbers are also affecting the social development and survival of the remaining herds. Thousands of the older elephants are killed for their larger tusks every year. The death of a herd’s matriarch can be devastating to the survival of that herd. “During Tanzania’s drought of 1993, matriarchs that endured a similar event decades earlier knew where to lead their herds for food and water. Groups with matriarchs too young to remember the previous drought lost more than half of their calves that year,” says 96Elephants.org.
The consequences of poaching are many. No one needs ivory more than an elephants. We can live without it, they cannot! So go to 96Elephants.org and sign the petition and pledge that you will not purchase or sell ivory. You can also donate to the International Elephant Foundation at elephantconservation.org, which is another great organization fighting to save elephants. Do not forget to join us at the Jacksonville Zoo on August 12, for our World Elephant Day celebration. Keepers such as myself will be at the exhibit most of the day answering questions and speaking to guests. Among other activities, there will also be elephant training demonstrations at different times throughout the day. On August 27, make sure to go to Red Elephant, located at 10131-12 San Jose Blvd, at any time throughout the day. Tell them your server that you are there for the American Association of Zoo Keepers Jacksonville Chapter and they will donate 15% of your check. On behalf of Ali and the rest of the elephant herd at the Jacksonville Zoo, as well as my fellow elephant keepers, thank you for your support!