Florida wildlife refuge to take 30 former circus elephants

YULEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida wildlife sanctuary is building a new, spacious home for former circus elephants.

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The White Oak Conservation Center north of Jacksonville is expected to welcome 30 Asian elephants to a 2,500-acre (1,010-hectare) refuge starting next year, the center announced Wednesday.

The pachyderms are coming from the Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County. Most of the animals previously traveled with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus until they were retired in 2016.

White Oak is owned by philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter.

“Elephants are majestic and intelligent animals, and they are in dire need,” Kimbra Walter said. “For too long, humans have decimated the native habitats, poached, and removed these animals from their natural home.”

The elephants will have access to nine interlinked areas that will include a variety of vegetation and habitat types, such as wetlands, meadows and woods, a news release said. The center also is constructing 11 waterholes and three barns with veterinary equipment.

White Oak covers about 17,000 acres (6,880 hectares). It's already home to several endangered and threatened species, including rhinos, okapi, bongos, zebras, condors, dama gazelles and cheetahs.