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Earth Day Lesson: You Can Teach an Old Elephant New Tricks

CEQ Chair Sutley joins EPA Administrator Jackson and Alexander Cousteau to celebrate Earth Day at the National Zoo, and to learn about a new sustainably designed habitat for some of the zoo's most popular residents, the Asian elephants.
Nancy Sutley at the National Zoo for Earth Day

CEQ Chair Sutley joins National Zoo Director Dennis Kelley in touring the zoo grounds (Photo by Eric Vance, US EPA)

As the rain poured down in Washington, DC, I headed to the National Zoo in a soggy but beautiful Rock Creek Park to celebrate Earth Day.  What better place to commemorate the day when we honor our natural environment.  After all, it's full of animals.  But this day took me to the zoo for a very different reason. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and I got a behind the scenes to look at a new sustainably designed habitat for some of the zoo's most popular residents, the Asian elephants!

Under the President's Executive Order 13514 for the Federal Government to lead by example in environmental, energy, and economic performance, the National Zoo, as part of the Smithsonian Institution, is finding new and innovative ways to institute green building practices in their facilities.  These practices help reduce the environmental foot print of these buildings and save money in the cost of operations.

CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley At the National Zoo for Earth Day with Elephants

Executives at the National Zoo point out green features in the new elephant habitat for EPA Administrator Jackson, CEQ Chair Sutley and Alexander Cousteau (Photo by Eric Vance, US EPA)

To ensure that these endangered Asian elephants' habitat is comfortable for them, the zoo has incorporated cutting-edge green technologies.  From harnessing the heat of the earth to warm the elephants' house, to a green roof that reduces storm water runoff and creates a habitat for birds, butterflies, and fauna, this state-of-the-art home has captured the spirit of Earth Day in so many ways.

Since 1970, when it was first celebrated, Earth Day has meant a time for us to recommit to protecting and preserving the natural wealth we depend on for our livelihood, prosperity, and security.  Today, I am proud to see that our National Zoo, already a leader in caring for our wildlife, is also leading the way in delivering on the President’s commitment to a more sustainable government.

It was great to see elephants of all ages, from ten year old Kandula to 63 year old Ambika, enjoy their new home.  For the most part, they took to the place right away.  Though we did hear it took Ambika a little longer than the rest, but now she's enjoying it as much as the rest.  Guess that just goes to show, you can teach an old elephant new tricks!

Nancy Sutley is Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality