Nightly News   |  October 26, 2013

Aging, ailing elephants find solace in Sunshine State

NBC’s Mark Potter visits the National Elephant Center near Fellsmere, Fla., a sanctuary dedicated to protecting the future of these precious pachyderms.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we have a rare look inside a place that could easily pass for the planes of africa . a place where elephants roamed freely. unlike in africa , the elephants face no threats here from some who may harm them for commercial grain. we get the story tonight from mark potter .

>> reporter: at sunrise in florida a herd of african el fants is on the move. among them a four and a half-ton female named tandi. years ago in zimbabwe she was found alive after her family was killed. later rescued, she's now the mat rhee ark of her own family at the new national elephant center.

>> we want there to be a future for elephants. we think having a self-sustaining population in north america is an important aspect of that.

>> reporter: the nonprofit center opened this year on 225 acres and runs on donations. it's a home for elephants moved out of other zoos because of old age or to allow herds to breed and develop more naturally. protecting the species at a time when poachers are slaughtering thousands a year for their ivory tusks.

>> 10% of the elephants were killed in africa last year. 15 years, they're gone if something isn't done to stop it.

>> reporter: calling the center home are tandierks, moyo and her sons. they came from disney's animal kingdom to have more space as the oldest son tufani prepares to go out an his own.

>> they begin to move out of the herd, find other males to spar with. like a teenage boy in our society.

>> reporter: most of the day they wander and graze outdoors n. the morning they come inside.

>> they were getting apples, carrots, melon.

>> reporter: every day the elephants are given a bath. not just to keep them clean but to check their health and give any treatments that might be needed. while the center is closed to the public there are plans to make it a learning facility and to eventually house up to 45 elephants to help sustain a majestic animal facing immense threat. mark potter , nbc news, felsmere, florida.