Auckland Zoo has made the heart-breaking decision to move its two female Asian elephants Burma and Anjalee to a new home - to give them both the family herd they need for their long-term wellbeing.

“In 2011, Auckland Zoo with the support of Auckland Council, committed to building a sustainable elephant family herd in Auckland. But over the past five years, changing circumstances beyond our control mean that we are no longer in a position to give them the long-term future they need,” says Auckland Zoo director, Kevin Buley.

“We are so proud of our elephant programme and the happy lives that Burma and Anjalee have with us. Our elephant team is truly exceptional in the level of skill, dedication, and care that they provide, which is why this decision has been so much more difficult to take. Our two elephants are such an important part of our Zoo whānau and we know how much they also mean to the millions of people that have found a connection with them and followed their lives with us over recent years,” he says.

“I think we’ve all heard the phrase that, ‘the right decision is often the hardest one to make’, many, many times before, but I’ve never really felt it to the extent that I do today. We are all absolutely gutted that Burma and Anjalee will be leaving us, as we have worked so hard to establish an elephant family for them here in New Zealand. However, we know that, for their long-term well-being, we now need to put our own feelings aside and do the right thing by them both.”  

Our challenges

In the last five years, Auckland Zoo has faced a number of significant obstacles to its original goal of establishing an elephant family herd. An additional female was expected to arrive from Sri Lanka’s Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage shortly after Anjalee in 2015 but this has not progressed, and she remains in Sri Lanka.

In addition, five artificial insemination (AI) attempts [working with the world’s leading elephant reproductive experts] were made between 2017-19 with Anjalee. Sadly, none of these were successful and now a number of insurmountable challenges mean that no further AI attempts are currently possible here in New Zealand.

Our elephants’ needs

“For Anjalee’s future health and wellbeing we must do everything to protect her ability to breed. Now aged 14, she needs to get pregnant soon to avoid the long-term reproductive health issues that can face female elephants if they don’t breed. Having exhausted all current possibilities to breed her here at Auckland Zoo, we will now work to move her to another accredited zoo programme where she can live in a multi-generational family herd. There she will be able to mate naturally with a bull elephant and have the best possible chance of eventually having her own elephant calf,” says Kevin.

Video

Andrew introduces Anjalee and Burma

We catch up with our dedicated keepers to find out how they care for our Asian elephants

Finding the best home and continuity of care

“We are currently working with our international zoo colleagues at other accredited zoos with excellent elephant programmes to secure the best possible home overseas that meets both Anjalee and Burma’s respective needs for their long-term wellbeing and future security.

“While the exciting future we hoped for them is no longer possible here at Auckland Zoo, Anjalee and Burma still have long and fulfilling lives ahead of them. When they leave us to travel to their new home, the elephant team will again put their own lives on hold to travel with them and then stay with them for as long as is needed, working with their new carers to settle them fully into their new elephant family,” he says.

Timeline and celebrating our elephants

“We know how much our community cares about Anjalee and Burma so, as soon as we are able to confirm which zoo we will be donating them to and the timing of their move, we’ll be sharing this with everyone.

“At the current time, we anticipate that they will potentially be leaving us by mid-2021, so there will be plenty of opportunity for people to see them and say their farewells.

“As anyone who has had the privilege to connect with elephants knows, they are the most extraordinary and charismatic animals. Over many decades, we are so proud that elephants here at Auckland Zoo have inspired so many millions of people to care more about wildlife and the world around them, and to be part of our efforts to help Asian elephants and other threatened wildlife in the wild.”

Further Information

We are working closely with our international elephant programme colleagues to secure the best home (another accredited zoo overseas) for Anjalee and Burma’s future - to give Anjalee every opportunity to breed and enable both Anjalee and Burma to form relationships with other elephants as part of multi-generational family herd. Once confirmed, along with a timeline - we anticipate later this year (2021) - we’ll be sharing this news with everyone.

Breeding is important for the long-term health and wellbeing of female elephants. Anjalee needs to breed soon to avoid the long-term reproductive health issues that can face female elephants if they don’t breed.

Yes, when Anjalee and Burma move they will be accompanied by Auckland Zoo’s highly skilled and dedicated elephant keepers. Our elephant keepers, who remain employed by Auckland Zoo, will stay with the elephants for as long as needed. At their new home, they’ll provide that reassuringly familiar and secure presence and continuity of care as they work with their fellow elephant experts to settle Anjalee and Burma into their new home.

It will be some months before the elephants move, giving our community plenty of time to see them and join us in celebrating the huge impact that elephants have had at Auckland Zoo over the years in helping build a future for these and other wildlife in the wild. Details about any celebrations for them will be shared in due course.

The changing circumstances beyond our control and insurmountable challenges we’ve encountered over the past few years to building an elephant family herd structure here at Auckland Zoo, mean we no longer have the supporting circumstances to ensure these elephants’ health and wellbeing into the future, and it’s difficult to see a path where we could provide this opportunity.

We are so proud that through our world-class elephant programme, led by our expert elephant team who are truly exceptional in the level of skill, experience, dedication and care they provide, Burma and Anjalee have wonderful lives here at Auckland Zoo.

Although we cannot build the family herd we had envisaged here in Auckland, we are fulfilling our commitment to them by finding them a new home at another accredited zoo overseas with an excellent elephant programme. We’re currently working with our international zoo colleagues to secure the best possible home overseas that meets both Anjalee and Burma’s respective needs for their long-term wellbeing.This includes giving Anjalee every best opportunity to successfully breed and enables both Anjalee and Burma to be with other elephants in the multigenerational family they need.

Our incredibly skilled and dedicated Elephant team, who are also experienced with working with other species, remain employed by Auckland Zoo. They will travel with Anjalee and Burma to their new home and stay with them for as long as needed. In being with Anjalee and Burma, our elephant keepers can provide that important familiar presence and continuity of care as they work with their fellow elephant experts to carefully transition them into their new home.

There are no other zoos in New Zealand that are part of international elephant breeding programmes. They will be going to join an elephant programme at another accredited zoo home overseas.

Right now, our priority and focus is on finding the very best home for Anjalee and Burma’s long-term wellbeing and future security. Once they do move, our Elephant Clearing habitat will in time likely be incorporated into our Africa Safari Track.

Yes. Auckland Zoo continues to support elephant conservation through great projects in Sri Lanka (the Biodiversity & Elephant Conservation Trust and the Centre for Conservation Research) and in Sumatra (the Sumatran Ranger Project) through the Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund, which reviews projects annually. To date, Auckland Zoo has contributed over $4 million to funding conservation projects conserving wildlife in the wild – here in Aotearoa and around the world.

In visiting Auckland Zoo you are joining us in supporting and helping conserve elephants and many other threatened wildlife species and their wild homes, so thank you!