Beloved Bull Elephant Returns to Cincinnati Zoo

Posted June 28, 2024

Sabu is back after spending almost two years with Columbus Zoo’s herd

Ten-thousand-pound bull elephant, Sabu [SAH-boo], returned to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden today after spending almost two years at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, where he did his best to produce calves with three breeding-age females.

Photos (Sabu in Columbus and in Cincinnati) | Video

“Sabu is one of the most genetically valuable males in the North American population of Asian elephants and has no living offspring, which is why it made sense to send him to a Zoo with young females while his new habitat, Elephant Trek, was under construction,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s director of animal care, Christina Gorsuch.

The main elephant yard and pool in the five-acre Elephant Trek habitat are now ready for Sabu to explore.  The four elephants that arrived late last year and one of the older females that he lived with previously, Jati, have already been introduced and have been the acres of space.  The other two females, Mai Thai and Schottzie, will eventually be integrated into the herd as well.

“Our hope is that Sabu will breed with the two young females,” said Gorsuch.  “We know that they are fertile since both came to Cincinnati with their male offspring.  We’re also confident that Sabu will do well with the boys.  He really hit it off with one of the young males at the Columbus Zoo.”

Sabu arrived in the United States in 1991.  He sired two calves, one at Dickerson Park Zoo and one at the Cincinnati Zoo, but both died from a virus (Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus – EEHV) that is still a major threat to the North American elephant population.

“We’re doing everything we can to prepare for a member of our herd getting sick with the virus,” said Gorsuch. “We set up a dedicated EEHV lab so we can test the elephants regularly and act swiftly if one shows symptoms.  Our vet team gave the young males, Sanjay and Kabir, plasma transfusions (from Jati) to give them some antibodies that should help protect them from strains of EEHV that they have not been exposed to.”

Elephant Trek will open to the public in the early fall and, in addition to elephants, the five-acre habitat will be home to Asian small-clawed otters, siamangs, and birds native to Asia. It will also feature event spaces, lush gardens, and new dining options.

Visitors can see updates about Sabu and the elephants in Elephant Trek on the Zoo’s social channels and can see Schottzie and Mai Thai in the Elephant Reserve, close to the Zoo’s main entrance, until they move to Elephant Trek.