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San Diego Zoo Safari Park breaks ground on new immersive experience

Press Release

The new Elephant Valley will be the largest transformation in the safari park's 50-year history



The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance announced this week its construction on the Denny Sanford Elephant Valley, making it the largest and most transformative project in its history. The zoo will turn its current elephant environment into a savanna, giving guests the chance to deeply connect with the elephants.

"We are thrilled to announce Denny Sanford Elephant Valley—a first-of-its-kind immersive experience for visitors, to further connect the vital work happening here in San Diego to the collaborative elephant conservation initiatives we support in the field," said Paul A. Baribault, president and chief executive officer, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, in an organizational release.1 "Elephant Valley could not be achieved without the incredible community, donors, members and allies who support us and make all our conservation work possible with partners around the world."

According to the release, the Elephant Valley will have a 2-story lodge that was inspired by the destinations frequent travelers of Africa stay in while they are on safari.1 Within the lodge, guests will have the chance to learn from educators on the wildlife while watching the elephants wade in watering holes. The zoo is also working with horticulturists and arborists who have created an authentic feel to the space, including sights, sounds, and smells that one would find in the African grasslands. Some of features that the new experience will also mimic the seasonal variations of the African savanna.

The new elephant valley will have guests surrounded by elephants, including an overhead walkway where guests will be able to see the herd pass through. Guests will also learn more about how important elephants are to the ecosystem as well as get a better understanding of their social dynamics.

“As magnificent as elephants are, their future is equally fragile,” said Lisa Peterson, executive director, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.1 “We are honored to take millions of wildlife allies on a journey into the life of elephants, where they will learn about the positive impact everyone can have, and share in our hope for elephants worldwide. Elephant Valley will be a place where curiosity turns into discovery—where anyone from ages 1 to 100 will experience breathtaking moments of wonder in nature. Our hope is that the defining memories you make here stay with you for a lifetime.”

The San Diego Zoo welcomed its first Asian elephants, Empress and Queenie, in 1923 after they were brought to San Diego from San Francisco on a train.2 Upon arrival, the team members at the train station could not get the elephants to budge until the Zoo’s founder, Harry Wedgeworth, MD, realized that they were most likely used to being ridden. Wedgeworth climbed on Empress and another staff member climbed on Queenie and they rode the duo to the Zoo.2 Then in 1953, the Zoo’s first African elephant, Peaches, was brought to San Diego from Africa when she was 3 years old.2

The new valley will be built thanks to funding from donors as well as longtime San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance supporter Denny Sanford. Sanford was the lead donor for the Wildlife Explorers Basecamp as well as the San Diego Wildlife Explorers, an education television program that was provided to children’s hospitals, Ronald McDonald Houses, and other facilities across the world.

Elephant Valley is expected to be finished in 2025 and anyone interested in learning more can visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park website.


  1. San Diego Zoo Safari Park Announces Elephant Valley, Largest Transformative Project in 50-year History. News release. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. August 10, 2023. Accessed August 10, 2023. https://prnmedia.prnewswire.com/news-releases/san-diego-zoo-safari-park-announces-elephant-valley-largest-transformative-project-in-50-year-history-301897565.html
  2. Elephant. Sandiegozoo.org. Accessed August 10, 2023. https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/elephant
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