Located on approximately 1,000 acres in Somerset, PA, the International Conservation Center (ICC) is North America’s premier conservation, research, education, breeding, and training facility, specializing in the care and breeding of African elephants. The ICC is the only center of its kind with such a strong focus on this beautiful and threatened animal, and enables the Pittsburgh Zoo to play a major leadership role in addressing the needs for breeding the African elephant population in North America.


The Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium’s highly successful methods of elephant management utilize positive reinforcement and nurturing to develop a strong, trusting relationship between keepers and elephants that is built on mutual respect. Keepers manage the elephants from the other side of a physical barrier. The method used depends on the needs and disposition of the elephant.

Through the use of vocal commands, praise, and food rewards, keepers are able to work with the elephants to accomplish necessary grooming, husbandry, enrichment, and veterinary procedures. If an elephant chooses to not respond to a command during training or a procedure, the keeper simply leaves the area. The elephants are never physically punished for not cooperating.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium recognizes and respects herd bonds among our elephants. We utilize the herd structure as a key component of our elephant management philosophy. When herd dynamics necessitate separation, the herd is separated into smaller groups, always respecting the bonds between mothers and calves; no individual is isolated, always being kept in areas of the barn where they can see, hear, or touch the other members of the herd. If an individual is ever isolated, it would be for medical procedures, and even then, they can see or hear the group.

When bringing different animals to the ICC, we will select species in need of hands-on research and conservation work. The Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium will lead the international effort to determine the best methods for breeding threatened and endangered species. As such, the second phase of the ICC will expand the center’s focus to other species in critical need. Possible species include cheetahs, Grevy’s zebras, and black rhinos. In identifying species, the Zoo will:


  • Research species in need of help and develop criteria for species residing at the ICC.
  • Outline criteria, determining if the facility will provide for the rehabilitation of specific animals, breeding animals, holding animals, etc.
  • Utilize the space at the ICC for species that have been identified as needing acreage for health and reproduction
  • Ensure the long-and short-term health and well being of the individual animals in our care as well as the species they represent
  • Conduct husbandry, behavioral, and reproductive research with the animals in our care
  • Serve as a holding facility for other Zoos that need our help with animals that meet the criteria of the ICC

The ICC is an extension of the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium. As such, it is governed by the Board of Directors of the Zoological Society of Pittsburgh. The ICC remains integrated with the Pittsburgh Zoo governance structure in the short term and long term.