A $2 million gift from businessman David Rubenstein will allow the Smithsonian's National Zoo to nearly double the size of its Asian elephant herd.
The zoo announced Tuesday that it will receive three female elephants in an open-ended loan from the Calgary Zoo in Canada, which is relocating its elephants to more suitable habitats.
The move will be funded entirely by Rubenstein, a co-founder of the Washington-based private equity firm The Carlyle Group. In 2011, Rubenstein gave $4.5 million to the zoo's giant panda program. He has sat on the Smithsonian's Board of Regents since 2009.
The new elephants will arrive sometime in spring 2014, the zoo announced. They will spend at least 30 days in quarantine before joining the zoo's existing herd of four Asian elephants.
The zoo's elephant habitat reopened in March after a seven-year, $56 million overhaul that nearly tripled the elephants' living space. It can house up to 10 adult elephants and their young and includes a walking trail, sand and rubber floors and a shower the elephants can operate themselves.
The Calgary Zoo sustained $50 million in damage from floods that devastated the city in June, although the decision to relocate the elephants was made before the floods. The zoo, which is partly located on an island in the Bow River, remains mostly closed.
Two of the new elephants, Kamala and Swarna, were born in the wild and are nearly 40 years old. They were brought to the Calgary Zoo from an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka in 1976. The third elephant, Maharani, is Kamala's female offspring and was born in captivity in 1990.
Asian elephants are endangered in the wild, and their median life expectancy in captivity is about 50 years. The National Zoo has a 65-year-old elephant, the second-oldest in the United States. The older elephants from the Calgary Zoo are beyond breeding age, but Kandula could still produce offspring, said Pamela Baker-Masson, a zoo spokeswoman.
The new elephants are expected to stay at the National Zoo indefinitely unless they don't get along with the existing elephants or other unforeseen problems emerge, Baker-Masson said.
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.