Auckland Zoo's new elephant Anjalee arrives at new home
There may as well have been a red carpet, such was the celebrity of Anjalee's arrival at Auckland Zoo on Sunday evening.
The eight-year-old Asian elephant handled the moment like a pro, posing briefly in front of the cameras before keepers Andrew and Corryn Coers led her to the privacy of her new accommodation.
That 50 metre walk of fame from her crate to the warmth of the elephant barn was the culmination of five years of planning involving agencies as diverse as Sri Lanka's Department of National Zoological Gardens, the Government of Niue, the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi and the Ministry of Primary Industries.
It would seem moving a 1.7 tonne pachyderm from one side of the planet to another is not as simple as you would think.
Zoo director Jonathan Wilcken was elated as media lined him up in the chilly evening air for interview after interview. "I'll do anything tonight," he joked.
Anjalee has flourished since leaving a Sri Lankan elephant orphanage in March, putting on weight thanks to the tropical abundance of Niue where she has been in quarantine.
Now the big question is will she get on with Burma, the zoo's 32-year-old existing elephant who has been on her own since her old companion Kashin died?
The pair will be introduced gradually, although elephant communication is so sophisticated that they would have been aware of each other even as Anjalee sat outside in her crate waiting to be craned into the enclosure, zoo staff say.
Early signs are positive, with Burma reportedly continuing to munch on snacks inside the barn despite all the commotion outside.
The zoo is spending $3.2 million on the project to start its own elephant herd, and it will be hoping for big things - a boost in visitor numbers, greater awareness of wildlife conservation, and eventually, baby elephants.
As Anjalee gets used to chilly Auckland after the heat of Sri Lanka and Niue, she has no idea of the hopes riding on her.
- © Fairfax NZ News