Pygmy elephant gores Sydney vet to death

GORED TO DEATH: Sydney vet Jenna O'Grady Donley.
GORED TO DEATH: Sydney vet Jenna O'Grady Donley.

A 25-year-old Australian woman has died after being mauled by a pygmy elephant in a remote wildlife park on Borneo in Malaysia.

The woman, Sydney-based veterinarian Jenna O'Grady Donley, was trekking with a friend and a local guide in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah state when the group were attacked by the rare pygmy elephant yesterday.

While the guide and the other woman managed to get away, the elephant's tusk pierced Ms Donley's body and she died instantly, the state wildlife department director Laurentius Ambu said.

Jenna's mother, Liz Donley, said the sanctuary said the incident was a very unusual occurrence.

She said Jenna and her friend were very respectful of animals' environments but believed the group had startled the bull elephant.

"Bull elephants are fast, they can move with unpredictability, and they're aggressive and they're protective," Ms Donley told ABC radio today (NZ time).

"This was an animal by itself and they startled it.

"This is an accident that's happened, a very tragic accident."

Her daughter had a keen interest in large animals and had volunteered in Africa to help injured animals at a wildlife sanctuary.

She had recently completed a thesis on renal failure in big cats, which her mother said would hopefully assist in finding a cure.

"Jenna was a very gifted child in the veterinary science field," Ms Donley said.

"Like a lot of the students that attend veterinary science they have to have a mixture of passion, intelligence and a complete devotion to the health of animals."

Ms Donley said losing her only child at the age of 25 was difficult but she hoped Jenna's work would leave a lasting legacy.

"It has happened and from that we have to move on with a positive note - that from Jenna's work and from the type of person that she was, we know that she had many friends, good family - and someone else now will take on that research and continue it."

One of young vet's university internship supervisors, Edla Arzey, said she had great potential.

"She was a very talented student, she was full of life, full of adventure, and this is what got her into trouble," Ms Arzey told AAP.

"She was doing something she really wanted to do, she was certainly enjoying everything here, interested in absolutely everything.

"She could have done anything she wanted to, absolutely anything.

"It's very sad when you see someone who's so full of life, cut off short like that."

Ambu said the women had trekked to a mud volcano but were disappointed that they didn't see much wildlife so the guide took them back another way and not on the main path.

Police are questioning the guide. Ambu said fatal attacks were rare though single elephant bulls are known to be aggressive.

Pygmy elephants, which are about two-and-a-half metres tall compared to about three metres for mainland Asian elephants, are unique to Borneo.

Photographs on Ms O'Grady Donley's Facebook page showed her in Africa over a year ago, with lions, cheetahs, elephants and swimming with turtles.

In an interview in the April edition of the NSW Department of Primary Industries' newspaper Agriculture Today, Ms O'Grady Donley said she enjoyed working with farmers during internships around NSW.

"Caring about rural people, their land, livelihood, animals, becoming involved with their families – it’s refreshing to be able to work with such genuine, down to earth people," she said.

She also talked about her passion for wildlife conservation.

-Sydney Morning Herald and AAP