The biggest stars at Audubon Zoo are two female Asian elephants, Panya and Jean. Housed in the Whitney Asian Domain, these ladies have always been fan favorites especially during their popular elephant presentations.
Improvements are on the way to our Asian Domain including a new Elephant Barn! Access to this area of the Zoo is limited and some animals may be off exhibit while we work to bring exciting changes to this area.
How much do you know about the Zoo's elephants?
- How long have elephants been at the Zoo?
Elephants have been star attractions at Audubon Zoo for nearly a century. Approximately a dozen elephants have resided in the Zoo throughout the years—some have called New Orleans home for long periods of time, while the stay for others was brief. Panya and Jean, Audubon’s two female Asian elephants, both have been at the Zoo for more than 30 years.
- Who was the first elephant?
The first elephant to reside at the Zoo was “Itema’’ who arrived in November 1924 at what was then known as the Merz Memorial Zoo. A promotion sponsored by the New Orleans Item newspaper launched a movement in 1923 to bring an elephant to the Zoo. The schoolchildren of New Orleans collected pennies to buy the elephant, and her arrival in the fall of 1924 was a major event. The park superintendent at the time, Frank Neelis, declared "the elephant belongs to the children of New Orleans...they saved their money to buy her." Her name originated from the New Orleans newspaper that had contributed part of the funding!
For 36 years, Itema was a main attraction at the Zoo. Visitors would stand in front of her and say, "Up." Itema would put her foot on an iron rail, throw her trunk in the air and open her mouth to catch a peanut. Itema died in 1960, she was almost 43. At the time, Itema was the tallest elephant on the North American continent and the oldest animal in the Zoo.
- Did other local businesses help bring animals to the Zoo?
In April 1961, an elephant named Sunbeam was given to the Zoo as a gift from the Sunbeam Bakery Company. Sunbeam died a year later and the bakery bought a replacement named Sunbeam II who arrived in November 1963.
- When did Panya and Jean come to the Zoo?
Jean came to Audubon Zoo in 1978 and Panya arrived in 1980. They are considered best friends. The elephants get an early morning walk around the Zoo several times each week. They can drink up to 26 gallons of water and eat 330 pounds of food each day. And they can poop up to 200 pounds a day. Asian elephants are an endangered species and their greatest threat is habitat loss.
- What is the life expactancy of an Asian elephant?
In captivity, Asian elephants can live up to 70 years.
Learn more about Audubon’s animals.