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.


Burma and Anjalee's move to new homes

Elephant team leader Andrew Coers discusses the complex reasons behind the important decision to move Burma and Anjalee to Australian zoos.

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.”


Learn more about the move here