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‘It’s crushing disappointment and frustration’: Deal falls through to rehome Auckland Zoo’s Burma

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Auckland Zoo director Kevin Buley says he’s shocked and gutted the deal to relocate elephant Burma to Australia Zoo has fallen over.

Auckland Zoo elephant keeper Emma with Asian elephant Burma.
Photo: Supplied / Auckland Zoo

A team from Auckland Zoo visited Australia Zoo just three weeks ago to pave the way for the relocation of Burma only for it to pull the pin in an email on Easter Monday.

The 38-year-old elephant was due to cross the ditch next week to retire with a herd on the Sunshine Coast.

Buley told Checkpoint the deal was 12 months in the making.

“It’s crushing disappointment and frustration not just for Burma by for the team, the elephant team who have put so much of their lives into this programme.”

The team worked ridiculous hours and have gone above and beyond during the process, preparing to move across with Burma to settle her in, he said.

“They literally had their bags packed and ready to go. I’m so proud of how they’ve dealt with this over the last two years and I am completely gutted for them now.”

Buley said the email from Australia Zoo was unexpected.

“As far as we were concerned everything was on track as far as was possible so it was a bit of a shock on the Easter Monday morning.”

Australia Zoo cited health concerns for one of their animals as the reason they pulled out of the deal but Buley said this was something Auckland Zoo was fully aware of and had been in conversation with the zoo about.

Auckland Zoo vets decided there wasn’t a risk to Burma in sending her.

“We want Burma to go to…where she’s wanted and where we know that she’s going to be able to live out the rest of her years.”

A decision was made to rehome the Burma as well as the zoo’s only other remaining elephant Anjalee when the zoo realised it was not possible to build a family herd for them here.

Anjalee was adopted by Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo in early March and is now fully integrated with the herd.

“That’s fantastic news for us, fantastic news for the team,” Buley said.

“We thought we had the deal sorted with Burma, with her move to her retirement home on the Sunshine Coast, that obviously has fallen over. It does mean that she’s on her own here now, which wasn’t the plan, but she’s doing really really well and that’s reassuring.

“I think part of that is the princess in her as we like to say that she’s now the sole focus of attention for the keepers so she’s enjoying all of the attention that was previously shared between the two elephants.”

But that’s not what is needed for her in the longterm, he said.

“What’s needed for her in the longterm, she needs to be with other animals, she spent an extended period of time on her own before Anjalee came to us from Sri Lanka – from 2009 to 2015 – and she did remarkable well during that time but that’s not what we want for her in the long term.”

Aside from staffing hours, Buley said the financial costs were transferrable or recoverable.

There were costs for both organizations in the transfer of Burma, he said.

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