- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas zoo could lose the accreditation that allows it to have elephants if officials can’t find a way to fund an upgrade of the animals’ enclosure.

The Sedgwick County Zoological Society on Tuesday asked county commissioners to pay $5.3 million of the cost of a proposed $10.5 million elephant barn. Zoo officials said the commissioners have three weeks to consider the funding before they begin the process of relocating two African elephants that have been at the zoo since 1972.

“The thought of losing Cinda and Stephanie after having them here for more than 40 years is distressing; and the possibility of having no elephants at our world-class zoo is unacceptable,” Scott Ochs, the president of the zoological society, said in a letter to County Manager William Buchanan.

The Sedgwick County Zoo has raised $4.3 million through donations from about 50 individuals and corporations, but zoo officials said that’s not enough, especially with a looming deadline. An Association of Zoos and Aquariums guideline passed in 2011 requires zoos with two female elephants to have space for at least one more by September 2016. The association’s requirement aims to protect the social animals from living alone.

Zoo officials hope four more elephants will join Stephanie and Cinda in the proposed exhibit designed to hold up to nine elephants. The project would be the zoo’s most expensive to date.

Tim Norton, a Sedgwick County commissioner, said he understands the zoo is an important to the greater Wichita community.

“Elephants almost everywhere are one of the top draws at zoos,” he said. “You can’t be a world-class zoo without elephants.”

If the county helps to pay for the elephant barn, the zoological society said it would be given the naming rights. The society also told the county it would come up with the remaining $900,000 needed for the exhibit.

The commissioners are scheduled to vote later this month.

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