Elephant fat camp in the works



Zoo elephants frequently pack on extra pounds, so a Silicon Valley entrepreneur — to be assisted by Oakland zoo staff — is proposing an elephant fat farm. The planned reserve would help get the corpulent pachyderms in better shape, according to planning documents submitted to California’s Tehama County, where the facility will likely be located.

People on diets can probably relate, as the elephants need a new lifestyle that will promote healthy eating and plenty of exercise. Our image of elephants hasn’t helped either, as we often expect them to be plump.

“The general public are familiar with Disney and the tale of Dumbo,” Deborah Olson, executive director of the International Elephant Foundation, a conservation group, told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re drawn as round creatures, so the general public has this conception that they’re round instead of what they truly look like in the wild.”

Roger McNamee, co-founder of the Silicon Valley private-equity firm Elevation Partners, created the NDOVO Foundation, which is proposing the reserve. Staff from the Oakland Zoo have agreed to run the facility.

The reserve would have a research facility and house three to five elephants at first, and then grow into a herd of about 15, over a 20-year period.

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A document filed with the state of California reads:

The project proponent is considering proposing a wild animal preserve consisting mainly of African Elephants on a 4,900 acre site currently being used for cattle grazing, known as Diamond Ranch, managed by the Oakland Zoo and NDOVO Foundation. The proposal will also include several accessory uses such as a large barn, housing quarters for research/security personnel, several out buildings, specialized fencing for large animals, feed storage areas, veterinary services, and internal/external education/research facilities phased over 75 years, in three phases

At the site, elephants would have a lot more room to run around in than they do at typical zoos in the United States. They’d also enjoy a high-fiber diet comparable to what they’d get in the wild.

Elephants at zoos seem to be prone to pack on pounds in their butt and back areas, according to Cheryl Meehan, consulting project manager on a related study.

At the Oakland Zoo, elephants go through regular weigh-ins, similar to human dieting programs, to make sure the pachyderms are staying as fit and trim as possible. Male Osh, for example, recently tipped the scales at 12,495 pounds. That weight actually seems OK for an elephant with his build. (He’s 10 ½-feet tall and 19 years old.) More elderly Lisa, however, who is in her 30s, weighs 9,285 pounds and has little muscle definition.

It’s unclear when the facility might open, as McNamee and his team still have work to do. Tehama County, nicknamed “cow town,” is home to a lot of cattle. Some locals don’t like the prospect of elephants moving in. The project planners, however, hope to ease concerns during an upcoming environmental-review process.