Pittsburgh zoo rescues three elephants

July 20, 2011 at 3:58 PM

PITTSBURGH, July 20 (UPI) -- The Pittsburgh Zoo says it has rescued three elephants facing death in Botswana after one of their keepers was accidentally killed.

The three female African elephants, which will be integral in the zoo's plan to create a breeding facility for African elephants, were brought to the zoo's International Conservation Center in Somerset County last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday.

Groups on both sides of the Atlantic took part in the rescue of Thandi, Seeni and Sukiri in an attempt to skirt a Botswana wildlife law that mandated the elephants' death after the accidental death of a keeper.

Details of the accident were not available, zoo officials said.

Housed in three large crates, the pachyderms were flown on a Boeing 747 cargo jet from Botswana to the United States in about 20 hours.

The elephants will stay at the conservation center for now with no immediate plans to move them to the zoo, said Barbara Baker, chief executive officer and president of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The Somerset center was chosen because there are only three African elephant breeding bulls in North America, and one of them is just a half-mile away at the zoo.

"Jackson is definitely ready to go," said veterinarian Ginger Tackle, referring to the zoo's only African elephant breeding bull who has already sired four calves.

Because the females were not bred in the United States, it's hoped they'll introduce new genes that will strengthen the population, zoo officials said.

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