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Source: San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Photo by Miriam Raftery: African elephant in South Africa

August 10,2023 (Escondido)-- San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance has announced construction is officially underway on what the organization says is the largest and most transformative project in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s 50-year history. The all-new Denny Sanford Elephant Valley will reimagine the heart of the Safari Park, turning the current elephant environment into a “dynamic savanna and a place of exploration,” according to the SDZWA media release.

Elephant Valley will give guests of all ages the opportunity to connect with elephants like never before in hopes of encouraging greater empathy, understanding, and appreciation of this majestic species—and igniting a passion for wildlife. Surrounded by elephants on multiple sides, including from below via an overhead walkway with views of the herd passing through, guests will learn about the crucial role elephants have as ecosystem engineers, and about their intricate social dynamics.

Elephant Valley will provide guests with new insight into the role San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance pursues as a leader in wildlife conservation. It will highlight the organization’s world-changing partners and celebrate the vibrant cultures and local communities where people and elephants coexist.

At the center of the guest experience in Elephant Valley is a two-story lodge, inspired by the destinations frequented by travelers while on safari in Africa. This gathering place will provide opportunities to learn from educators about the awe-inspiring wildlife of the region, while witnessing elephants wade in expansive watering holes. The rich plant life in Elephant Valley has been carefully curated by a team of expert horticulturists and arborists to authentically reflect the sights, sounds and smells of the African grasslands. The vast new habitat will provide enhanced experiences for the herd of elephants by introducing several innovative features that align with seasonal variations to closely replicate the African savanna year-round.

“We are thrilled to announce Denny Sanford Elephant Valley—a first-of-its-kind immersive experience for visitors, to further connect the vital work happening here in San Diego to the collaborative elephant conservation initiatives we support in the field,” said Paul A. Baribault, president and chief executive officer, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “Elephant Valley could not be achieved without the incredible community, donors, members and allies who support us and make all our conservation work possible with partners around the world.”

“As magnificent as elephants are, their future is equally fragile,” said Lisa Peterson, executive director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “We are honored to take millions of wildlife allies on a journey into the life of elephants, where they will learn about the positive impact everyone can have, and share in our hope for elephants worldwide. Elephant Valley will be a place where curiosity turns into discovery—where anyone from ages 1 to 100 will experience breathtaking moments of wonder in nature. Our hope is that the defining memories you make here stay with you for a lifetime.”

The effects of climate change, challenges to human-wildlife coexistence, habitat loss and poaching are taking a toll on elephant populations. African savanna elephants are currently listed as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

Conserving African elephants has long been a top priority for San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. The organization works closely with Save the Elephants, The Nature Conservancy, Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service and Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Kenya for conservation of elephants.

Scientific studies conducted in both Africa and with the elephant herds at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, provide a unique opportunity to increase the understanding of the species, and help develop additional conservation solutions. Increasing knowledge of the complexity of elephant social behaviors and the understanding of their overall health needs has given San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and its partners valuable insight into what successful conservation outcomes look like for elephants.

“Elephants across Africa are facing immense challenges, which require all of us to collaborate and find sustainable conservation solutions for elephants and people,” explained Nadine Lamberski, DVM, chief conservation and wildlife health officer, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. “We are eager to witness the impact Elephant Valley will have on our continued elephant conservation efforts globally.”

Elephant Valley is funded by thousands of generous donors and longtime San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance supporter Denny Sanford. In addition to Elephant Valley, Sanford was the lead donor for Wildlife Explorers Basecamp at the San Diego Zoo, and for the educational television programing of San Diego Zoo Wildlife Explorers, provided at hundreds of children’s hospitals, Ronald McDonald Houses and other facilities across the globe. Elephant Valley is expected to be completed in 2025. For more information and to make a donation, visit

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, a nonprofit conservation leader, inspires passion for nature and collaboration for a healthier world. The Alliance supports innovative conservation science through global partnerships. Through wildlife care, science expertise and collaboration, more than 44 endangered species have been reintroduced to native habitats. Annually, the Alliance reaches over 1 billion people, in person at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and virtually in 150 countries through media channels, including San Diego Zoo Wildlife Explorers television programming in children’s hospitals in 13 countries. Wildlife Allies—members, donors and guests—make success possible.


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