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Virginia Zoo elephants moving to Miami

Posted at 9:29 AM, Nov 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-03 17:44:55-05

Norfolk, Va. -  Two of the Virginia Zoo's most famous residents -- African elephants Lisa and Cita, will be moving to Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens.

Back in May, the zoo announced that new requirements from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums say zoos with elephants must have at least three of them together so they are more mentally and physically healthy.

The AZA's new requirements came after studies of elephants in the wild show that female elephants are very social and live in multi-generational herds with matriarchal leaders.

42-year-old Lisa has been at the Virginia Zoo since 1976 and 47-year-old Cita has been at the zoo since 2005. The zoo previously had a third elephant -- Monica, but she died in 2011.

After exploring many options, the Virginia Zoo chose Zoo Miami as the best option for Lisa and Cita due to a combination of climate, space and socialization, in addition to conservation education value.

“We care for all the animals at the Zoo and Cita and Lisa are especially loved,” says Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. “Nothing is more important to us than their welfare. The combination of compassionate care, the science of elephant studies, and the expertise of the elephant community show us that Zoo Miami is the best choice for our girls.”

The two will join Zoo Miami's two female elephants, Mable and Peggy in a spacious exhibit twice the size of their current one where they will be cared for by a team of elephant keepers assigned solely to their program. Zoo Miami is also the only zoo in the continental United States with a sub-tropical climate. Cita and Lisa will be able to enjoy the outdoors both day and night, all 12 months of the year.

The elephants will relocate to their new home in the Spring of 2016.

The Virginia Zoo is considering adding a white rhino exhibit to replace the elephants.

"Our plan for the exhibit is to acquire a breeding group of white rhinos. A breeding group of animals like rhinos is actually more a mission-centric project for us that will present the entire life cycle of an animal. We breed those animals, contribute them to the gene pool of white rhinos, and also have a more in-depth visitor experience," Bockheim says.

This is a developing story. Additional information will be added as it becomes available.

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Are the elephants leaving the Virginia Zoo?