MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Zoo Miami has a new resident. His name is “Ongard” and he is a 7-year-old, 6,300-pound male Asian elephant.
Ongard arrived at the zoo shortly after midnight Wednesday after flying half way around the world on a chartered jet. He was accompanied by staff members from the Melbourne Zoo in Australia, the San Diego Zoo and Zoo Miami and drove into the zoo in a custom truck and crate, complete with police escort.
Ongard is the first male elephant born in the history of the Melbourne Zoo and was a cherished member of that institution. He is also the first elephant to ever leave Australia. Through a breeding loan agreement, he is owned by the San Diego Zoo Global and together with Zoo Miami; the three institutions have been working for months to carefully plan this historic transport.
“I can’t tell you how impressed I was to watch him unload after being in a shipping container for quite a while and calmly walking in and immediately reacting to his trainers,” said Ron Magill with Zoo Miami.
The reason for his move to the United States is that he comes from a genetic line that is unrepresented anywhere in North America and is therefore incredibly valuable to the captive breeding program for this endangered species. By way of a new breeding loan with San Diego Zoo Global, Zoo Miami was chosen to be his new home because of Zoo Miami’s commitment to the care of elephants, the favorable South Florida climate, and the amount of land it is able to dedicate to providing a home for elephants. Zoo Miami has spent nearly half a million dollars in new renovations to its Asian elephant exhibit in preparation for Ongard’s arrival.
Web Extra: Watch Ongard’s Amazing Journey From Melbourne To Miami
While Zoo Miami does not have any female Asian elephants of breeding age right now, the hope is that it will eventually be able to receive some for Ongard to breed with in the future. In the meantime, his genetic material can be introduced into the North American population through artificial insemination.
After passing his initial exams and inspections, Ongard was introduced to his new holding yard where he settled in well and will be quarantined for several weeks before going out into the main exhibit yard. His keepers who travelled with him from Australia will remain in Miami until May 22 to slowly introduce Ongard to the Zoo Miami team and help insure a smooth transition.
“He stayed so calm because we stayed there with him, taking him through it and he would look at us like ‘am I ok?’” explained Steve Blanchard, Ongard’s Australian keeper.
There are less than 50,000 Asian elephants left in the world and with an ever-growing threat of habitat loss, human conflict and poaching, there is a serious concern that we may lose this iconic species in the wild within the next generation.
“He is going through the natural process of being a bull,” Magill said. “And that is getting to be sexually mature, getting to be on his own and independent, hoping to get females to breed.”
Zoo Miami is committed to working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Asian elephant Species Survival Plan (SSP) to help insure the survival of these majestic animals for generations to come.