Louie the elephant begins his overnight journey from Ohio to Omaha

Louie the elephant is seen in his enclosure on Wednesday at the Toledo Zoo. Louie will be transported to the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium to breed with elephants in Omaha.

Louie, a 6,000-pound, 14-year-old elephant, is due to arrive at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium on Friday morning. He’s being shipped from his lifelong home in Toledo by truck, making his way across Interstate 80 in a specially made elephant crate.

A heavy-duty forklift loaded Louie’s 17,000-pound crate onto a lowboy semitrailer at 4:30 p.m. Toledo time on Thursday, and a convoy departed the zoo about 90 minutes later. Local police will escort the truck to the interstate and Omaha police will meet the convoy sometime Friday.

Louie is coming to Omaha to breed. A nationwide species survival plan paired Louie with two Omaha female elephants who were flown in from Swaziland during an extreme drought in March 2016.

Louie comes from a long line of zoo-raised elephants. Breeding him with recent arrivals from the wild helps promote genetic diversity in the species.

A team of zookeepers, veterinarians and administrators from the two zoos worked closely with Omaha’s USDA representative to craft a careful transport plan that took into account Louie’s safety and comfort.

Once the forecast showed a break from summer’s most intense heat, a tentative plan was crafted on a few days’ notice to ship Louie on Thursday evening, when temperatures were expected to drop below 85 degrees. The plan called for overnight travel, reaching Omaha in 12 to 16 hours. Every three or four hours, drivers will pull over and zoo staff will check on Louie and provide food, water and his favorite — fruit punch-flavored Gatorade.

Traveling directly behind Louie are a van and a box truck, loaded with an excess of food, water and supplies.

Two drivers from Omaha-based Werner Enterprises are taking shifts driving Louie. The Omaha zoo has staff in trailing vehicles — veterinarian Dr. Julie Napier, elephant manager Sarah Armstrong, curator of large mammals Dan Houser and maintenance supervisor Bob Raymond.

If anything seems out of place along the way, the convoy will stop at a moment’s notice to ensure Louie’s safety.

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