Retirement will be sweet for South Florida’s newest Golden Girls — two senior elephants that made their debut Friday.
After a journey from the Virginia Zoo and a month in quarantine, the two newest ladies in the Golden Girls herd have stepped into the spotlight at Zoo Miami.
Lisa, 42, and Cita, 47, are remarkable additions to the already aged herd. Mabel and Peggy are both 40, which is five years older than the typical African elephant lives in captivity.
“These are our two retirees coming down to South Florida,” said Ron Magill, communications director for Zoo Miami.
Magill attributed the health and age of all the pachyderms to their high level of care and the South Florida weather. Next month, he said, an Asian male elephant at the zoo will celebrate his 50th birthday.
The hot and humid weather in South Florida is paradise for the African elephants, and Zoo Miami is the only zoo in the U.S. in a subtropical climate. Their outdoor exhibit with soft ground to walk on has a shallow pool and fountain. Lisa stopped occasionally to mist herself with the water, but came right back to elephant keeper Scott Hooper. He tossed handfuls of chopped carrots, apples and sweet potatoes to the pampered pachyderms.
The elephant enclosure, or as Magill called it “Club Med for elephants,” was expanded and senior-proofed to prepare for the new arrivals. The slope to the moat surrounding the enclosure was lowered so that the older elephants would be less likely to fall and hurt themselves.
Lisa and Cita joined the herd after a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that elephants should be kept in groups of three for their mental health. Elephants are social creatures and interactions with others are a big part of their emotional health.
But the gossipy, social atmosphere envisioned by the “Golden Girls” name could be slow to come, Magill said. The introduction of the newcomers will be gradual and careful, or “It could get a little testy, so to speak,” he said.
“Hierarchy is an important part of elephant life,” Magill said. “They’ve got to figure out who’s boss, who’s number two.”
If the largest land mammals on the planet chose their leader based on size alone, the enormous golden elephant statue unveiled next to the enclosure would be the alpha elephant.
At 16 feet high, 7 feet wide and 27 feet long, the glittering gold mosaic, donated by Trend Group, is imposing. Twelve mosaic artists spent more than a year combining recycled material and recycled glass to build the 2,700-pound statue.
Andrea DiGiuseppe, global CEO of the mosaic and enamel production company, said the statue is meant to highlight the plight of endangered elephants.
“It’s a shame that today more than 90 elephants are killed a day,” he said. “We should learn something from these incredible animals.”
The ultimate Golden Girl is missing one thing — a name. DiGiuseppe said the community will get a chance to submit ideas soon.