By Erika Angulo
It was dawn, and African elephant Thandi stood calmly chewing her early morning meal of tree leaves and twigs -- until she caught sight of our TV crew, gingerly approaching.
The 9,000-pound matriarch paused, took a step forward, and stared at the man she's known for 16 years: John Lehnhardt, the executive director of the new National Elephant Center.
"It's going to be all right Thandi," he said.
Just a few yards away, her friend of 20 years, Moyo, and her two male calves Tufani and Tsavo, looked to Thandi for guidance.
"She's trying to make sure you're not a threat to her family," Lehnhardt said.
A few minutes went by, with only mosquitoes breaking the stillness. Suddenly, Thandi turned back to resume her breakfast. She had given her silent consent, allowing us to visit her home.
Thandi is part of the first elephant family to live in the National Elephant Center in Fellsmere, Fla., which opened earlier this year.
Supported by zoo donations, the 225-acre facility aims to preserve the threatened species while also offering a home to any elephant in need. By providing an environment closer to the animals’ natural habitat, managers of the sprawling park hope to eventually help elephants reproduce and enjoy a better quality of life.
But that doesn't mean the baby elephants will be sold.
"We will never buy or sell an elephant. We don't believe that that's right," said Lehnhardt. More....