A $13 million extension to Auckland Zoo could make it home for the only elephant herd in Australia and New Zealand.
Auckland City Council's arts, culture and recreation committee has approved a proposal to enlarge the zoo's existing enclosure to six times its size, taking in two areas of Auckland's Western Springs Park.
The proposed areas, which are next to the zoo's present elephant enclosure, will include an exercise area, a new elephant bull house, a public viewing area and a boardwalk.
The extra space could accommodate a herd of up to 10 new elephants, and the zoo is in talks with a zoo in Asia about obtaining more of the animals.
The zoo wants to expand to improve the wellbeing of its sole remaining elephant, Burma, whose companion Kashin died in August 2009.
Councillor Greg Moyle, who chairs the arts, culture and recreation committee, said it would not happen overnight. "I'd hope the process would be well under way by this time next year."
But animal rights groups and some city councillors have expressed concerns.
Safe spokesman Hans Kriek said zoos were moving away from keeping elephants in enclosures, because it was not in the animal's best interests.
Mr Moyle said organisations such as Safe had already indicated they would take the expansion plan to the Environment Court.
"But they're not being realistic," he said. "An elephant breeding herd will be established which will become more sustainable and part of a worldwide conservation project to protect the Asian elephants."