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Zoo’s Elephants Help Rid Metroparks of Unwanted Plants

By Scott Carpenter

In the Metroparks, non-native invasive species are persistent problems, crowding out native species as they creep into natural areas. But to an elephant, two pesky plants will become an interesting new side dish.

Metroparks Toledo and the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium are working together to help rid the parks of the nuisance bush honeysuckle and autumn olive shrubs while enriching the diets of the Zoo’s three African elephants, Renee, Twiggy and Lucas.

“The Toledo Zoo is excited to partner with the Metroparks to provide a unique local enrichment option and dietary supplement for our elephants,” said Shayla Bell Moriarty, director of communications.

Tim Schetter, Metroparks director of nature resources, said these and other invasive plants are a problem in the Metroparks because they overtake native species, reducing plant diversity. Removing them is an ongoing part of restoring natural areas across the park district’s 12,000 acres.

“It’s a rare opportunity when we can actually get some benefit out of invasive species,” Schetter said. By removing these undesirable plants from parks and feeding them to the Zoo’s elephants, we improve not only the quality of our natural areas but put it to good use. It’s a win-win.”

Staff from Metroparks Natural Resources Dept., with help from volunteers, are currently clearing the brush from an area at Blue Creek Metropark in Whitehouse, and delivered the first batch of branches to the Zoo November 2. In the future, ZooTeens, with the assistance of Zoo staff and volunteers, will help remove the plants.

“This invasive species-to-browse program is a great addition to our mission of caring for animals and conserving the natural world with the added bonus of doing it in our own backyard,” Moriarty said. “We look forward to continuing our longstanding partnership with the Metroparks and finding more innovative and efficient ways to conserve the natural world together.”