Zoo staff excited about the implications of their successful introduction

Zoo Knoxville’s African elephant male Tonka and female Edie have always been  fond of each other, but after careful planning and preparation with an expert elephant behaviorist, the two friends finally got the chance to have a real play date in late May.


Since their initial meeting, the pair have enjoyed regular play sessions where the very active Edie loves to engage Tonka in sparring, interactions on the sand pile and sharing treats.


These play dates also have another purpose.  They allow zoo staff to assess Tonka’s behavior with females, possibly opening the door to future breeding opportunities through the African Elephant Species Survival Plan.  This is a collaborative program of zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) working to save elephants from extinction.  Tonka’s genetics are not represented in the North and South American populations, making him the most genetically valuable bull in the country for breeding and a potentially important part of the future of elephant conservation.


In Africa, an average of 96 elephants are killed each day to meet the demand for ivory. The ivory trade generates millions of dollars, which supports criminal syndicates that have been linked to extremist groups.  The team of zoos that comprise the African Elephant Species Survival Plan are working to ensure a genetically healthy population in U.S. zoos while working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to protect wild elephant populations in Cameroon, Nigeria and the Republic of Congo.