Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Greening of the Denver Zoo and their Toyota Elephant Passage

Sneak peak: Two Asian Elephants @ Toyota Elephant Passage
Picture this…It is somewhere in Southeast Asia, perhaps Thailand or Sri Lanka.  Lying among the grasses is an enormous gray mass. An Asian Elephant has been killed; an elderly woman stands near the animal sobbing into a handkerchief.  It is a sad day and there are conflicting emotions. The elephant was encroaching on a human settlement by crop-raiding, because the animal was a threat to human safety, she was shot.  Yet, who doesn’t love an elephant? Ever since indulging in the childhood stories of Babar, the Disney movie Dumbo, or more recently, the movie Water for Elephants, and loving Ganesh (the elephant-headed man and remover of obstacles) from Hindi philosophy, elephants trample deeply into our hearts.

Ganesh - remover of obstacles
Asian elephants were once highly revered in Southeast Asian cultures; they were often domesticated and used as workers in the logging industry and they had a close bond to their trainer/caretakers (called mahouts). But the ever-expanding human populations and their demands for resources throughout the world have continuously reduced the natural habitat areas for wild animals. And this is true for the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).  Conflicts arise when a hungry elephant raids the croplands grown for human consumption.  Many countries of the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia (and elsewhere around the globe) are trying to find solutions to preserving and protecting the indigenous animals that once roamed freely. Now many indigenous free-roaming animals are forced to go hungry. What is a solution that would protect and preserve animals that do not have enough natural habitat areas to forage for food and are thus forced into human-populated regions? Enter the wildlife preserves and committed zoos that work to keep endangered animals and humans safe from such conflicts.

Our own local Denver Zoo reaches out to other countries throughout the world to preserve and protect wild animals. The zoo has spent over $1 million to support animal conservation, and since 1996 has participated in 568 projects in 57 countries. With the new Asian Tropics exhibit, called the Toyota Elephant Passage, it is concentrating on the animals of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim. Not only is the new Toyota Elephant Passage the largest elephant facility in the country, able to house 8 bull elephants and several females within the 10-acre range, it also will provide a home for other Asian species such as Greater one-horned Rhinoceros, Malayan tapirs, Sarus cranes, Clouded leopards, White-cheeked gibbons, and Asian Small-clawed Otters. The new area will offer just what the title implies, “a passage” for the animals to wander safely throughout the area within cabled corridors. These fenced pathways will provide exercise and encourage more natural behaviors for the larger species.

Inside exhibit showing great use of natural light
Furthermore, The Denver Zoo accomplishes this feat of caretaking and conservation of endangered species by being extremely “green” – eat your heart out, Kermit. The state-of-the-art innovations implemented at the Toyota Elephant Passage have made the Denver Zoo the greenest zoo in the country.  The Denver Zoo is set to receive Gold (or Platinum) LEED’s Certification and the ISO 14001 certification for incorporating the highest environmental standards for their operation. These achievements have been accomplished by utilizing several resourceful methods:  incorporating a Biomass Gasification system which recycles 1.5 million pounds of animal and human waste created annually into energy, a water filtration system that will recycle the 1.1 million gallons of water used in the man-made ponds, sustainable architectural design and construction choices that use natural light (skylights, Solatubes, and reflection systems,) and ventilation systems that improve air quality.

A Gibbon playground

This 10-acre zoo addition is divided into three main sections: Chang Pa Wildlife Preserve, which mimics a wildlife reserve in an Asian country; Scholzel Family Village, complete with prayer flags blowing in the wind and Buddhist prayer wheels, and the Village Outpost, which exhibits some of the travails of wild animals having to deal with human settlements.

All this is made possible with a little help from their friends. The Denver  Zoo worked with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) during the early phases of development to explore viable energy options.  Other financial supporters were Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., The Boettcher Foundation, Anabel C. and Jerome P. McHugh, The Governor’s Energy Office (Colorado), Pioneer Resources, Mesa Energy Partners, LLC and Western Energy Alliance.  However, we must sing praises to the namesake of the elephant passage, the group that continues to support the exhibition—Denver Toyota Dealers Association.  Their funds and support are making this animal and Asian cultural adventure deliver. This is no small feat. When a highly-visible organization such as the Denver Zoo sets the bar as the best of all the rest in environmental practices, it paves the way for others to follow (such as our local Toyota dealers) and make being green a beautiful thing. Thank you all!
Thanks to:
Groove Toyota in Englewood, Mountain States Toyota
in Denver, Stapp Interstate Toyota in Frederick, Stevinson Toyota East in Aurora, Stevinson
Toyota West in Lakewood, Larry H. Miller Toyota in Boulder and Go Toyota in Centennial.


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