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Friday, April 18 2014 3:34 PM EDT2014-04-18 19:34:46 GMT
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FELLSMERE, FL (WFLX)-- John Lehnhardt looks out over a fence and calls out to a new friend.
"Thandi what are you doing?" he calls. For Lehnhardt, the Executive Director of the National Elephant Center in Fellsmere, this is the realization of a decade long dream.
This former Indian River County orange grove he walks now houses four African elephants.
Thandi is the aunt and the matriarch. She was showing off her strength by crunching a batch of palm fronds when a video camera got a little too close for her comfort.
After Thandi, there's Moyo the mom. Then there's Tufani, who turned 10 Wednesday, and little Tsavo.
They were sent here from Disney's Animal Kingdom so that the two young males will eventually learn to leave the nest.
"It requires a good amount of space and this is a great opportunity for that natural process to occur. In fact, the 10 year-old is already getting a few signals from mom and auntie that it may be time for him to distance himself a little bit," said Lehnhardt.
Lehnhardt says the family spends almost all day out in the habitats, with brief stops in the barn.
"During that time, they'd get a bath, get checked out by our professional elephant staff," Lenhardt added.
You might be thinking to yourself, how can elephants be in South Florida?
"It's the perfect climate. It's the exact climate these elephants would experience in Africa or Asia," said Lehnhardt.
The barn can support nine elephants, with a long range goal of 45.
The elephant center is a collaborative effort of more than 70 zoos across the country as a place for breeding, elephant care, and professional training.
The center is closed to the public now but future plans include an education center and the development of an additional 200 acres to create a larger pachyderm playground.