Auckland Zoo 'delighted' by new elephant offer, but animal rights activists angry

Another elephant, Anjalee, arrived at Auckland Zoo in June.
JANE HEALY/AUCKLAND ZOO

Another elephant, Anjalee, arrived at Auckland Zoo in June.

Auckland Zoo says it is "delighted" to accept the gift of a Sri Lankan baby elephant, but the move has left animal rights activists outraged.

Prime Minister John Key, on a two-day visit to Colombo, announced the zoo and the Sri Lankan Government had agreed the zoo will get a five-year-old female elephant named Nandi.

A spokeswoman for Auckland Zoo said on Thursday it was the "next step in a long-standing and carefully planned programme of co-operation between Auckland Zoo and Sri Lankan authorities".

Prime Minister John Key waves next to Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at his welcome ceremony.
DINUKA LIYANAWATTE/REUTERS

Prime Minister John Key waves next to Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at his welcome ceremony.

She was the second elephant New Zealand had been gifted by Sri Lanka in the past year, after Anjalee arrived in Auckland last June, also from Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. They join the zoo's veteran elephant Burma, who has been at the zoo for more than 25 years.

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Nandi who was born in captivity, was the right age and maturity to be re-homed, the spokeswoman said.

The current elephant enclosure at Auckland Zoo was suitable for a third elephant so if there were any changes, they would be minor. 

"Auckland Zoo is delighted that it can confirm a second elephant from Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, will be joining its elephants Burma and Anjalee.

"The immediate aim is to provide an elephant family for Burma and now Anjalee at Auckland Zoo.

"Subsequently, the plan is to breed elephants to ensure their long-term sustainability at the zoo.

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"Our hope is that all three elephants will be compatible and Nandi to flourish here as Anjalee has," she said. 

However, the executive director of animal rights group SAFE, Hans Kriek, said the offering of the elephant was more about "politics and international relationships than animal welfare".

"The cost involved with relocating and maintaining an elephant is so much higher than conserving animals in the wild," he said. 

SAFE was "deadly opposed" to keeping elephants in captivity, and had urged Auckland Zoo to reconsider housing elephants when its elephant Kashin died in 2009. 

"Elephants do not do well in captivity. I can understand why the public would want to see them, by and large. But it's just a selfish thought," he said. 

"They have a very limited area to the point where they have to be taken for walks to give them exercise."

​Auckland Zoo director Jonathan Wilcken said the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was built to house 30 elephants, but currently had 93 on site. 

"All elephants held at the orphanage are unable to be released in to the wild, and the orphanage regularly re-homes elephants of Nandi's age to other facilities."

Wilcken said Auckland Zoo had "contributed significantly" to programmes in Sri Lanka aimed at the protection and conservation of elephants in the wild where they were threatened.

"Elephants are extraordinarily powerful ambassadors for wildlife and the natural world, one of the many reasons we are very excited about Nandi joining Anjalee and Burma to become part of our sustainable breeding herd," he said. 

Veterinary preparations were already underway ahead of Nandi's transportation to Auckland.

Auckland Zoo said there was a lot of routine testing over the next coming months that Nandi would have to go through - the same process Anjalee went through before her arrival.

Eight-year-old Anjalee is "thriving" at Auckland Zoo since leaving Pinnawala elephant orphanage in March last year. She was quarantined in Niue before arriving in New Zealand.

"She and Burma have developed a strong relationship of mutual support and playfulness, both showing evident signs of enjoying each other's company immensely."

 - Stuff

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