Kandula was born at the zoo on Nov. 25, 2001, becoming the first captive male Asian elephant conceived through artificial insemination. Weighing 324 pounds at birth and more than triple that on his first birthday, he now is close to 2,000 pounds. Experts say he could one day tip the scale at five times that amount.
"He's already strong enough to soon outgrow the rest of the facility," zoo director Lucy Spelman said.
In a typical day, Kandula and his mother, Shanthi, each eat 125 pounds of hay, 10 pounds of herbivore pellets, 10 pounds of fruits and vegetables and several leafy branches.
The expanded yard includes a wading pool and barrier system with a hydraulic gate designed to withstand 10,000 pounds of force. It is one phase of a 10-year plan to triple the zoo's elephant space and host a whole herd of endangered Asian elephants in the nation's capital.
Current plans for the zoo's Asia Trial will accommodate two bull elephants and up to six females, Spelman said.
On a chilly morning, Kandula bounded into his new stomping ground to cheers from zoo staff. His hesitant mother trailed behind, but before long both were trumpeting, overturning tires and posing for cameras.
"They're mischievous and strong - it's humbling to stand next to an animal like that," said Anthony Barthel, assistant curator for large mammals.
About 30,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. Some 300 are in captivity. They have a life span of approximately 60 years.
By Lauren Frayer