It will take the better part of a decade, says Wiese, for researchers to know if breeding programs are helping to stave off North America’s elephant population crisis. In the meantime, there’s debate over whether zoos should import more females to bolster the breeding ranks. But there is little time to argue. “We don’t want to wait until there are ten elephants left in captivity and then investigate how to bring the population back,” says Olson.
“The goal is not to get as many elephants in captivity as we possibly can,” says Kinzley. “The goal is to use these as true ambassadors of the species, and have their lives be as full as they can be.” One afternoon while watching Lisa play under a sprinkler at the Oakland Zoo, Kinzley recalled how happy Lisa seemed after Dohani was born. After a setback like Dohani’s death, she said, zoo professionals should keep trying—for the elephants’ sake. “I think it would be selfish on our part to give up.”