News & Politics

National Zoo Welcomes Two New Asian Elephants

A gift from the Netherlands, the two arrive as part of a North American breeding program.

Asian elephants Trong Nhi (left) and Nhi Linh (right) in their habitat at the Rotterdam Zoo on Oct. 13. Photograph courtesy of the Rotterdam Zoo.

It’s all “midterms thisand “midterms that” at the moment, but here’s good news to get your mind off the political: The National Zoo welcomed two new Asian elephants last night. 

Described as an “energetic, dynamic duo” with sweet and friendly dispositions, a 19-year-old named Trong Nhi (pronounced “trong-nee”) and her daughter, a 9-year-old named Nhi Linh (pronounced “nee-lin”), will join the zoo’s five other elephants in the Elephant Trails habitat—where, hopefully, romance will spark (or at least be strongly encouraged) between them and Spike, a 41-year-old male.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ breeding program recommended the match to the National Zoo, as part of its Species Survival Plan. The North American program pairs “individual animals for breeding in order to maintain a healthy, genetically diverse and self-sustaining population,” according to a press release. 

“Trong Nhi and Nhi Linh are not only important social additions to our herd, but also they are key to our efforts to help sustain the Asian elephant population in North America and around the world,” said Brandie Smith, director of the National Zoo. “Most people will never have a chance to see Asian elephants, which are endangered, in their native countries.”

A gift from the Netherlands’ Rotterdam Zoo, the two elephants underwent a roughly 4,000-mile trans-Atlantic journey in crates equipped with first-class-style accommodations including in-flight snacks, leafy branches, and a team monitoring their health along the way.

“We are proud of this international cooperation with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and the North American breeding program that enables us to support a healthy backup population of this endangered species in America,” said Erik Zevenbergen, director of Rotterdam Zoo. “We are convinced that elephants need our help to survive by creating a world without boundaries to nature.”

Don’t expect to see the new starlets just yet. As part of standard procedure, the zoo is quarantining Trong Nhi and Nhi Linh in its elephant barn before it begins what it calls “howdy” introductions, in which zookeepers introduce the elephants through a safety barrier where they’ll see and smell each other.

If all goes well, Trong Nhi and Nhi Linh will likely make their public debut in early-to-mid December. For now, you might catch a glimpse of them virtually, via the zoo’s Elephant Cam.

Asian elephants Nhi Linh (left) and Trong Nhi (right) in their habitat at the Rotterdam Zoo on Oct. 13. Photograph courtesy of the Rotterdam Zoo.

Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor