Photos: Denver Zoo's $50M Toyota Elephant Passage opens today

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Piper was referring to the fact that Asian elephants are endangered. It's estimated that there are between 30,000 and 50,000 Asian elephants left in the wild, in countries such as Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. About 300 Asian elephants live in North America, either in zoos or on private lands. But very few of them are male, partly because male elephants are bigger, stronger and harder to house. Plus, there's the problem of musth, a period in which male elephants experience elevated hormone levels, heightened sexual interest and aggressive activity. In the wild, their penises protrude and, perhaps because of continuous urination, grow algae -- a condition known as "green weenie."

However, if you want to breed elephants to help ward off endangerment, you need both boys and girls -- and the Denver Zoo decided to build a home for bull elephants. The new exhibit can house twelve elephants altogether, up to eight of which could be male.

Right now, the zoo has four elephants. Mimi and Dolly, the zoo's two post-reproductive female elephants, have lived in Denver for years. Bodhi, a seven-year-old male, came to the zoo in late 2011. Groucho, who's 41, arrived in January.

denver zoo toyota elephant passage craig piper.JPG
Melanie Asmar
Bodhi walks across Peter and Ella's Crossing as Craig Piper speaks.
One of the exhibit's coolest features is a railroad-style bridge near the entrance that serves as a walkway so the elephants can move from one part of the exhibit to the other. This morning, Bodhi ambled across it as the crowd ooh-ed and aah-ed. "Bodhi was our first elephant who decided, 'I'll cross that bridge,'" Piper says.

The exhibit will be open every day that the zoo is open, starting today. However, because the zoo expects an influx of visitors to Toyota Elephant Passage, timed entry reservations are required. You can make a reservation online.

Click through to see photos of the inside of the exhibit.

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