HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Honolulu Zoo's two heaviest residents aren't quite as large as they used to be.
About five months after they moved into their much larger new habitat, Mari and Vaigai have each lost roughly 300 pounds. They still weigh about 9,300 pounds each.
"They're better toned now because they walk a lot," said Robert Porec, the zoo's mammal curator. "300 pounds sounds like a lot to us, but that's about three percent of their body weight. So that's about six pounds for a 200 pound adult."
Their new one and a half acre facility is about ten times larger than that their old quarters. The new exhibit cost city taxpayers roughly $12 million.
Porec said the elephants have lost weight because they're moving around a lot more in their new, bigger home.
Zookeepers spread out their food, including hay, celery and other vegetables and fruits.
"We scatter that food around so they have to forage for their food and eat their food. So they are moving a lot. There's a lot more exercise. The keepers do walk the elephants in the yard and the elephants do play in the pond," Porec said.
Zoo veterinarian Dr. Ben Okimoto said, "In the past, both of them had been overweight from my estimation, so it's good that they have lost some weight."
They still have hearty appetites, eating about 150 pounds of food a day.
The zoo is better able to track the elephants' weight much more accurately now, with a Jurrasic-Park sized scale made just for the elephants that's part of their new habitat.
Before they moved to their new quarters, the elephants were weighed twice a year using a truck scale borrowed from the state transportation department.
"The scale is much more accurate than what we used to use, so we can keep track of them. i think the keepers are weighing them on a weekly basis, so we know if they're losing too much," Okimoto said.
A national nonprofit animal rights group called "In Defense of Animals" has criticized the elephants' new enclosure, calling it too small and out of date.
In January, it ranked Honolulu's elephant habitat among the bottom ten in the United States.
But Honolulu Zoo officials wondered how much credence that rating has since the group never inspected the new facility and relied on second-hand reports to make its assessment.
Zoo officials said they will participate in a national research project this summer. They will place GPS anklets on their two elephants so they can analyze their movements and find out what portions of the exhibit they spend the most time in.