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Somerset elephant preservation hosts international symposium

By Maria Miller 
SOMERSET COUNTY, Pa. -- African and Asian elephants are fascinating animals, but why people care about them in west-central Pennsylvania? For one, there are five of them living in Somerset County. 

A facility there got some international attention Thursday as hundreds of researchers gathered for an annual symposium that's designed to find ways to help save the endangered species. 

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium owns the facility, and officials there say elephants in captivity, like those in Somerset County, are helping researchers study the animals close up to better understand their patterns in the wild. 

"Yes, there are elephants in Somerset County, and there have been since 2007," said Dr. Barbara Baker, presidentand CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. "This facility is a fabulous facility for the animals, and the community has been fabulous."

It's called the International Conservation Center, or the ICC, built on more than 740 acres of fenced-in property. On Thursday, more than 100 elephant and rhino researchers from around the world gathered at the facility as part of a weeklong symposium held by the Pittsburgh Zoo. 

"It is an annual symposium, and it does tend to be hosted in different parts of the world, so it's not always hosted in the U.S.," said Heidi Riddle, of the Elephant Managers Association. "Sometimes it's hosted in Africa, sometimes in Asia."

"Really, the people here are the ones that are on the ground, that are doing conservation and research on African elephants, Asian elephants and every species of rhino in the world," said Baker. "We've brought them all together."

Experts spent the day in classes and presentations, hoping to bring awareness of a few important species on the brink of extinction. 

"Maybe we can make a difference," said Baker. "It's still up for grabs whether the African elephants, whether the Asian elephants, critically endangered elephants, are going to survive."

Experts were only in Somerset County for Thursday after spending two long days at the zoo in Pittsburgh. The symposium wraps up Friday.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times