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Elephants at Yamaguchi Pref. zoo receive training for move to new enclosure

Sri Lankan elephants Milinda, right, and Namalee are seen with a crate for their transportation to their new enclosure at Tokuyama Zoo in the city of Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Feb. 27, 2019. (Mainichi/Norio Oyama)

SHUNAN, Yamaguchi -- Elephants at the municipal Tokuyama Zoo here in western Japan are preparing to move to their new enclosure, which will be completed in spring.

Male elephant Milinda, 11, and female Namalee, 12, from Sri Lanka are scheduled to move to the new facility before the "Golden Week" holidays starting at the end of April. Zookeepers are training them to get used to staying in large crates for the move.

A new elephant enclosure is seen under construction at Tokuyama Zoo in the city of Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Feb. 26, 2019. (Mainichi/Norio Oyama)

The pair grew up at a facility in Sri Lanka and came to Tokuyama Zoo in September 2013. During their transportation to Japan, they were separately kept in wooden crates about 2.4-meters high, some 1.5 meters wide and roughly 2.5 meters in length. The containers were transported to the international airport in Colombo and flown to Fukuoka Airport in about an eight-hour flight before being delivered by truck to the zoo.

Half a year after coming to the zoo, Milinda weighed 1,924 kilograms while Namalee tipped the scales at 1,781 kilograms. Milinda currently weighs 3,497 kilograms compared to Namalee's 2,897 kilograms. On the day of the elephants' move to the new enclosure at Tokuyama Zoo, they will be loaded into the crates and lifted by crane onto a truck for delivery. The containers are made of iron and are larger than the previous wooden ones. They are about 3 meters high, some 2 meters wide, roughly 4 meters in length and weigh around 3 tons.

A crane was used to place two crates into the current elephant enclosure on Feb. 26, a holiday at the zoo. On Feb. 27, the containers were opened to Milinda and Namalee. While Milinda went into the crate and begged zookeepers for food, Namalee hesitated to enter.

Toshihide Kashiwamura, a 41-year-old zookeeper at the facility, commented, "Elephants are intelligent and cautious. Depending on their training, it could take a week or a month for them to get used to the crates."

The new elephant enclosure is a two-story building with a floor area of about 1,200 square meters. There is an observation deck on the second floor and the facility has a nursery for when Milinda and Namalee hopefully have children.

(Japanese original by Norio Oyama, Shunan Bureau)

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