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Denver Zoo's new elephant exhibit, Asian Tropics, is halfway finished (PHOTOS)

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Asian Tropics, the Denver Zoo's biggest-ever project, is halfway finished. When it's fully completed in the spring of 2012, it will be home to several species, including up to eight male Asian elephants -- a necessity for captive breeding, but an intimidating feat that brings certain challenges. Among them: green weenie.

In 2009, Westword wrote a cover story about the zoo's groundbreaking exhibit: "Caution: A Herd of Bull Elephants is Coming to the Denver Zoo." (Read it for more details on "green weenie," a condition that plagues bull elephants during a hormonal period called musth, when their penises protrude and, due to constant urination, grow algae.)

The zoo broke ground on Asian Tropics in December 2009, and a little more than six months later, we checked in on the ten-acre, $50 million exhibit to see how construction was coming along.

Then, the swath along the zoo's southern border that will become Asian Tropics was little more than dirt mounds, trenches and posts sticking out of the ground. But today, we got another tour, and it's now possible to envision the spaces that will be home to rhinos, tapirs, leopards, flying foxes (a species of bat), fishing cats, otters and gibbons. Page down to check out photos and descriptions. In the words of George Pond, zoo vice president for planning and capital projects, "It's a great day to build an elephant exhibit!" In this photo, it's possible to see the fake rocks that will dot the massive exhibit, as well as the fake trees that the exhibit's arboreal clouded leopards will one day lounge on. In the background is Peter and Ella's Crossing, an elephant bridge named after zoo benefactors. Behold the elephant bridge, designed to look like an abandoned railroad crossing. Zookeepers will use the bridge to move the elephants from habitat to habitat within Asian Tropics, a key tenet of the exhibit that ensures none of the animals gets bored. "It's not guests who'll be crossing that bridge," said zoo CEO Craig Piper, "it's elephants!" Here, a worker constructs a fake rock. Using a hose, he shoots layers of concrete onto the skeleton of a rock. After he's done, the zoo's "rock artist" will use wires, brushes and paint to complete the job. There will be four types of fake rocks in Asian Tropics. Here, Pond stands inside the El Pomar Foundation Asian Pavilion, the building that will house the flying foxes, otters and fishing cats. Where he's standing will be a sort-of porch, where visitors can get an up-close view of the flying foxes and their five-foot wingspans. Those steps lead into one of the exhibit's "elephant hot tubs," essentially a heated pool. Asian Tropics is full of pools and canals deep enough for the animals to submerge in; in all, it will contain 1.1 million gallons of water. Of that, 900,000 gallons will be recycled. Here, Pond stands in front of the Koelbel Family Foundation Elephant House Parlor, which is connected to the Clayton F. Freiheit Elephant House. Visitors will be able to view the elephants in the horseshoe-shaped parlor. The elephants will sleep in eight stalls that ring the outside of the parlor. In between the parlor and the stalls are two walkways: one for trainers and one for elephants. There will also be two catwalks for trainers above the stalls, as well as a keepers' house out back. In that house will be a so-called elephant traffic control room, in which a staff member will keep track of which elephants are where.

More from our Things to Do archive: "Bear sex? Horny elephants? Inside Denver Zoo's Singles Safari."

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