Narrating the correlation of elephants as related to their import, groupings, breeding and transfers,
along with other elephant related topics.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cleveland Zoo - Willy

The Cleveland Zoo’s new $25 million ‘African Elephant Crossing’ five acre exhibit opened in May 2011, with two yards for the elephants, ponds for swimming, expanded sleeping quarters with sand flooring and a heated outdoor range, capable of holding up to ten elephants. Other animals will include other small African mammals, reptiles and birds. Hippos, tapirs and warthogs were reportedly cut to save the zoo $10 million.

"Supported by more than a century of experience caring for elephants, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is putting the finishing touches on a world-class elephant habitat and conservation center at the site of its 1950s-era Pachyderm Building. African Elephant Crossing quadruples the amount of indoor and outdoor space dedicated to these majestic animals and provides them with stimulating surroundings similar to their native savanna. Opening on May 5, 2011, the state-of-the-art exhibit will serve as a model for other zoos nationwide and become the Zoo's largest capital project since The RainForest opened in 1992."
Courtesy of

The Cleveland Zoo received their first bull elephant since 1962 in April 2011 with the arrival of 32 year old Willy from Disney's Animal Kingdom. The move was recommended by the by the African Elephant Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The 13000 pound elephant measures 11 feet tall at the shoulder. He joined the Cleveland Zoo's four member herd of female African elephants.

"Willy was hanging out in the shade of the Mopani Range this morning"
Photo Courtesy of Cleveland Zoo's Official Facebook Page

Willy, Cleveland Zoo
Photo Courtesy of Cleveland Zoo's Official Facebook Page


  1. AnonymousMay 18, 2011

    I saw him at the opening on May 5 and May 6. A volunteer said the keepers describe Willy as a gentleman. The keeper used a clicker as a bridge in training. CMZ uses protected contact in taking care of the elephants. Willy shifted very easily between the 2 yards. He's a beautiful elephant.

  2. Thank you for the comment Anonymous and thank you for the information. I was unaware both yards are capable of holding bulls. I have some pictures I will post soon of the Cleveland girls at Columbus while the new exhibit was under construction.

  3. Are the Cleveland girls (Jo, Martika & Moshi) original to Cleveland?

    Yes, I saw Willy shift twice, once on May 5 and again on May 6. On May 6, the girls were going thru training in the barn and before they came outside, Willy was shifted to the other yard. He is a magnificent bull.

    It's exciting to view the shifting because the visitor gates are closed on both sides and there's a special announcement over the PA.

    Elephant Crossing is a 5 acre exhibit and CMZ will be getting a junior bull in the future.

  4. Natasha,
    The Cleveland Zoo acquired their three female African elephants in June 1997. Martika was kept as a single elephant for six years until her transfer, thereby closing the elephant exhibit at the Erie Zoo. At the Erie Zoo, Martika's public name was Kiah. Jo and Moshi resided together at the Wildlife Safari for thirteen years. Moshi first arrived in Oregon following her importation with another cow, Nanda, in May 1979 and Jo from a circus in July 1984. Nanda was sold to the Swain family in April 1989.

    In September 2008, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo transferred their three animals to the Columbus Zoo during construction of the new African Elephant Crossing habitat. The anticipated three year loan began as Jo and Martika were transported via trailer in the morning, followed by Moshi that evening. They joined four Asian elephants already housed in Columbus, but the two herds were kept separate. The three Africans returned to Cleveland in December 2010.

    Do you have any photos of the transfer event? I am not sure I understand your statement "the visitor gates are closed on both sides."

    Cleveland reported they look to acquire six year old Tamani from the Lowry Park Zoo in Florida. I assume they would attempt to create another bachelor herd (similar to Birmingham). Does the Cleveland facility have any outdoor, off-exhibit holding?

  5. The gateway to the exhibit is where visitors enter and exit and it's also the location of the gates between the 2 yards -- the Mopani Range and the Savannah. So, when the elephants are "crossing", the gates are closed on each visitor side and the gates for entering/exiting each yard are opened and closed as the elephant moves from one yard to the other.

    There is a 3rd yard called the Night Yard or Night Range which is outdoors and off-viewing to the public.

    I'm sending you a link to a 5 min video explaining the exhibit design and construction: :

    From what I read at the AZA website, a zoo with a elephant exhibit must have a facility that can accomodate bulls.

    I think, and this is my personal opinion, we're going to see some zoos acting sort of like "regional centers" for exhibiting elephants because of their social grouping, size and the cost of caring for them. I think I'll turn into an elephant "travel agent" and conduct tours! LOL

  6. I think Richard "Army" Maguire told me that Willy was the first elephant he ever trained. He was handled by Bret Bronson pryor to going to Disney rite?

  7. Mike,
    Yes, Bret handled Willy among a group of several male and female African elephants. Perhaps he will share some history regarding Willy.

  8. Bret BronsonJune 27, 2011

    Yes, Mike, I am pretty sure that your comment about 'Army' and 'Willy' is correct. He stopped in to visit me WAY back and told me he was pretty sure that was the same 'Willy'. I had 'Willy' from 10/90 - 12/26/98, when I delivered him to Disney. He is a great of kind.

  9. Bret and Mike,
    Willy was one of several elephants located at Four Bears Water Park near Detroit, Michigan. In 1990 they were all sold off. Is this the location where Army trained these animals? I believe many of them were former Arthur Jones elephants. Did Army have an association with the Florida importer?

  10. AnonymousJuly 14, 2011

    G'day Ryan,
    Jo started her North American travels at the Metro Toronto Zoo back in '74. In July '82 I helped Bucky Steele load her into his trailer and headed back to Texas. He then sold her to Bill Neville, who sold her to the Ford Circus and then after killing a groom, she was donated to Winston Safari. We will be at the Cleveland Zoo on Monday to check out their new facility! Five Zoos in three days!
    Happy Days


I eagerly anticipate associating with new individuals with an interest or history in elephants, elephant history and elephant record keeping. If you have further information regarding the animals or locations questioned in the article, please leave a comment or message me in an effort to complete their records for elephant historians.