SPCA takes care of circus elephant Jumbo

CLOSE BOND: Elephant handler Tony Ratcliffe has a close bond with Jumbo, working with her for 28 years.
CLOSE BOND: Elephant handler Tony Ratcliffe has a close bond with Jumbo, working with her for 28 years.

How to feed a three tonne elephant was the dilemma facing her Rodney minders and new owners the SPCA.

Jumbo was staying at a South Head property after retiring from the circus last week, and she had truckloads of food – including 11.5 tonnes of pineapple – to keep her happy.

Feeding the elephant normally costs about $200 daily.

Jumbo was handed over to the SPCA’s care after finishing a year’s job with the Loritz Circus, under the care of Weber Brothers Circus where she served for 28 years.

She was moved to Franklin Zoo during the weekend.

Weber Brothers owner Harry Weber says she has had a busy career.

"Jumbo is a real crowd favourite and it’s always been our intention to ensure she has the opportunity to enjoy the second half of her life at a less hectic pace and out of the public eye," he says.

"Being on the road with the circus can be tiring for animals and their health and well-being is always our main priority. The care and transport of an animal of this size is also a big undertaking."

The 36-year-old African elephant is one of only two elephants in New Zealand. The other is an Indian elephant at Auckland Zoo.

Jumbo’s handler and good friend Tony Ratcliffe, who has been with Jumbo for 28 years, visits her every day.

"Jumbo is a middle-aged elephant. Elephants can live upwards of 60 years."

Tony has a strong bond with Jumbo and is the only one who can take her in and out of her truck, where she stays overnight.

"An elephant chooses her friends. Once they do that, they bond for life. You can’t just walk in and out of an elephant’s life."

Local residents have all lent a hand to help take care of Jumbo and Trudy Hall has been co-ordinating the delivery of fresh food.

"We’ve had huge support from the local business community. Jumbo has been well fed with apples, carrots, bananas, sugar beet, grass, willow, bamboo and pineapples."

Mt Wellington’s Turners and Growers, Kumeu’s Boric Orchards, Parakai’s Four Square Supermarket, Waimauku’s Sunnyview Orchards and Sunrise Orchards, Helensville’s Te Awaroa Gardens and Woolworths, and Whenuapai’s Vegeco are among the many organisations that have donated food.

Property owner Sue Wilson heard Jumbo needed a place to stay until her next home at Franklin Zoo was finished.

"I met Jumbo about 21 years ago while producing a children’s television programme. I stayed in touch with Tony, then we did a documentary on Jumbo.

"I bought this property in the hope of getting an elephant, but it’s hard to get a zoo licence. This can be Jumbo’s holiday home though."

Tony says they don’t know yet if Jumbo will take to her new home, but both he and the SPCA are determined to make sure she is happy.

"It was always our intention that one day she would retire.

"We worried about how to do it. We want to make sure it works out for everyone.

"Over the next few months we will be assessing her wellbeing because she will be alone, we will see how she goes."

The SPCA has set up a special fund for the public to support the cost of her care and feeding. Donations can be made to the Jumbo Fund at any SPCA office or via the SPCA website at www.rnzspca.org.nz.

For more information about Jumbo visit www.jumbo.net.nz.

Rodney Times