The difficult decision to move the elephants was announced last November when it became clear that circumstances beyond the Zoo’s control meant that its ambition to build a sustainable family herd in Auckland could no longer be realised.
“We will always put the welfare of animals first, and these moves are all about meeting the needs and ensuring the best long-term outcomes for Anjalee and Burma – two very different elephants at different life stages, with different needs. This includes giving Anjalee, whose biological clock is ticking, every opportunity to breed,” says Auckland Zoo director, Kevin Buley.
“We’ve been working hard with our Australian colleagues and the Asian elephant breeding programme to ensure the needs of both animals are met now and in the future. It’s because those needs are very different for each elephant that our own elephant specialists and vets have chosen separate homes for Anjalee and Burma.”
At Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Anjalee will be integrated into a family herd of two cows and one calf, and three bulls - giving her the very best opportunity to breed, which is important to her long-term reproductive health and wellbeing. Meanwhile Burma, who at 38 can no longer breed, will join the herd of four females at Australia Zoo (Queensland) where she will have the opportunity to play her natural role of ‘aunty’ to the herd’s younger females.
“Some people may be wondering why Anjalee and Burma are not going to live together”, says Auckland Zoo’s Team Leader of elephants, Andrew Coers, who has worked with the Zoo’s elephants for the past 22 years.
“Both Burma and Anjalee are amazing animals. They have a friendship and enjoy each
other’s company, but they don’t share a maternal bond like a mother and daughter would, and at times like their own space as well. Anjalee was born at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. She found herself largely on the periphery of the main herd, separated from her mother, and experienced the constant comings and goings of elephants – as a result she has become very independent. We’ve also seen her confidence grow here in Auckland, so we know that she will settle in quickly with the bigger herd at Taronga Western Plains.”
“Burma, who has lived at Auckland Zoo for 30 years, has had a very different upbringing. Here her ‘human family’, us the elephant team, have always played an important role in her health and wellbeing while she’s had just one other elephant companion – Kashin, who she lived with for 20 years, and more recently, Anjalee. The programme at Australia Zoo is very similar to ours, and some of the staff there have worked with Burma in the past, so that familiarity will greatly benefit Burma. She’ll get the support she needs to integrate into her new elephant family where she can play the role of aunty to the younger females that she’s enjoyed doing with Anjalee,” explains Andrew.
To make the process of integration easier for Anjalee and Burma, Auckland Zoo vets and staff will travel with them. The elephant keepers, all of whom have years of experience and close relationships with both elephants, will share staying on at Taronga Western Plains and Australia Zoo respectively, providing Anjalee and Burma with that reassuringly familiar presence as they work with their Australian colleagues to fully settle the two elephants in.
“We are still devastated by the reality that we will no longer have elephants in New Zealand, and we know many in our community are feeling the same. Burma and Anjalee are extraordinary animals that have helped inspire millions of people to care about and act for wildlife and the environment. However, as always, we must put the needs of the animals first, and we are both relieved and excited to have secured such wonderful new homes for both elephants that will ensure they will have the very best long-term futures,” says Buley.
Anjalee and Burma will continue to inspire and help build a future for their endangered wild cousins as Auckland Zoo, Taronga Western Plains Zoo and Australia Zoo all support a range of conservation projects to help ensure a future for Asian elephants in the wild.
Anjalee and Burma will travel to Australia later this year. As with any complex animal transfers, more specific dates can’t be provided at this time, but the Zoo will keep everyone updated as plans progress.
Learn more about the move here.