- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Six African elephants have arrived at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium from drought-stricken Swaziland.

Spectators lined 10th Street in Omaha’s Old Market, waving and applauding as a semitrailer drove the crated African elephants toward their new home in Omaha, the Omaha World-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/1nFr07n ) Saturday.

A Boeing 747 cargo plane arrived at Eppley Airfield on Friday afternoon with the five females and one male. The elephants were part of a group of 17 elephants imported from Big Game Parks in Swaziland. The plane made a stop in Senegal on its long trip, then dropped off five elephants in Fort Worth, Texas, and six in Wichita, Kansas, before landing in Omaha.

The move was not without its detractors. Earlier this month, a judge denied an animal rights group’s request to stop an import of the elephants from Africa to the three American zoos. Friends of Animals filed the request, saying it opposes keeping elephants in zoos because they are migratory and social animals.

The animals were thin upon arrival but otherwise healthy, officials said. U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarians inspected the elephants both at Eppley and at the zoo.

It took hours to unload the elephants from the plane and transport them to their new 29,000-square-foot building at the zoo. Zoo officials say it’s the largest herd room in North America.

Zookeepers laid out food - akin to a trail of bread crumbs, zoo director Dennis Pate said - to entice the elephants to walk a path into the individual stalls that will house them temporarily.

The elephants’ new home includes about 4 acres of outdoor space with a 150,000-gallon wading pool, a mud bath, a sand pit and hay shelves with timed drops that encourage them to move from one station to another for exercise and visibility.

Pate said the elephants would go on display to the public before the planned Memorial Day opening of the $73 million African Grasslands exhibit.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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