SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Zoo's Safari Park held birthday celebrations Thursday for calf Mkhaya, nicknamed Kaia, and her older brother Inhlonipho, nicknamed Neepo, featuring birthday cakes made of ice and fruit, paper streamers and decorated boxes filled with hay and produce.

The park held the celebration for Kaia's first birthday and Neepo's eighth, the second birthday celebration for the park's elephant herd in the past six weeks.

Another calf in the herd, Umzuli-zuli, celebrated his first birthday Aug. 12. As part of the celebration, Kaia, Neepo and the rest of the herd enjoyed treats like watermelon, cucumber, yams, carrots and celery.

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"The keeper team, our nutrition team, horticulture team and the Safari Park volunteers have provided some fun enrichment for Kaia and Neepo, and the entire herd gets to enjoy the party," Safari Park lead elephant keeper Mindy Albright said.

The Safari Park rescued the three adult elephants in its herd in 2003 from Eswatini, formerly the Kingdom of Swaziland. All three elephants were in danger of being killed, according to the zoo.

African elephants are currently listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to habitat loss, conflicts with humans and poaching.

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Since 2004, the zoo has given more than $30,000 annually to Eswatini's big game parks for anti-poaching programs and the purchase of additional acreage to ensure elephants have safe habitat space.

Safari Park visitors can see all nine members of the elephant herd, including Kaia and Neepo at the park's Elephant Valley exhibit. The elephants also can be seen on the zoo's online Elephant Cam feed.

Pachyderm Birthday Celebration at San Diego Zoo Safari Park: Elephant Calf Kaia Turns 1 Year Old
African elephant calf Mkhaya, nicknamed “Kaia,” tore apart a paper box filled with alfalfa and some of her favorite treats, including cut-up yams and carrots, during a special birthday celebration earlier today (Sept. 26, 2019) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The precious pachyderm turned 1 year old, while her older brother Inhlonipho, or “Neepo,” turned 8. Safari Park keepers decorated the elephants’ habitat with special enrichment items, birthday cakes made of ice and fruit by the Safari Park’s nutrition team, paper streamers and decorated boxes made by the Safari Park’s volunteers and filled with hay and produce by keepers, and fresh-cut tree limbs (browse) provided by the Safari Park’s horticulture team. The Safari Park is home to nine elephants—three adults, and six calves and sub-adults of varying ages. African elephants are currently listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and face many threats in their native habitats, including habitat loss and fragmentation, conflicts between humans and elephants, and poaching for their tusks, hide and bushmeat. Guests can visit Kaia, Neepo and the rest of their herd at their home in Elephant Valley at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, or watch them on Elephant Cam by visiting sdzsafaripark.org/elephant-cam. October is Kids Free month presented by Mission Fed. During the entire month of October, kids 11 years of age and younger will receive free admission at both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, with special activities scheduled every weekend. For more information, visit zoo.sandiegozoo.org/kidsfree or sdzsafaripark.org/kidsfree.
Ken Bohn, photographer, San Diego Zoo Safari Park