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Sedgwick County Zoo plans $11.5 million campaign

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The Sedgwick County Zoo will likely hold an $11.5 million fundraising campaign to improve its elephant exhibit and enable it to bring in four more of the animals, the zoo director said.

The county's Zoological Society probably will announce the zoo's largest-ever fundraising campaign by the end of next month, zoo director Mark Reed said. Organizers hope to raise most of the money before the campaign is opened to the public.

Designs for the elephant exhibit show a 5-acre complex that would include improvements to the zoo's current boat canal that would allow visitors to ride by in boats near the elephants, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/19vnGPn ). Reed said the earliest the exhibit could open would be the summer of 2016.

The effort is partly in response to new standards from The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which by September 2016 is requiring all accredited zoos with elephants to have at least three females and two males or three total elephants, including at least one male or female.

The zoo wants to acquire three more female elephants and a bull elephant to join its two current elephants, Stephanie and Cinda, who have been at the zoo since 1972.

"The goal is to breed them," Reed said. "We want to have a reproductive herd to help with the long-term sustainability of elephants."

Craig Rhodes, vice president and studio lead at GMLV Architecture, a Wichita firm, designed the exhibit.

"To say I'm excited is a little bit of an understatement," Rhoades said. "It's just absolutely fantastic for the elephants and fantastic for the community to move forward with a project of this caliber."

Scott Ochs, president of the zoological society, supports the campaign.

"It's been a tough economy, and this is a big number. But I think we're optimistic," he said. "For me, it's really about species survival. I don't have grandkids, but if I did, there would be a real possibility that when they'd be my age, they wouldn't have any elephants to see."

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com