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Auckland Zoo’s acquisition of Thailand elephants

Auckland Zoo’s acquisition of elephants from Thailand

As a regional consortium, the Auckland, Taronga (Sydney) and Melbourne zoos, are currently pursuing the acquisition of nine elephants from Thailand.

Two of the nine elephants, a young male bull and a female calf, are destined for Auckland Zoo.

This acquisition is subject to a Memorandum of Agreement between the Thailand and Australian governments, and another, among the participating zoos.

Along with this acquisition, Auckland, Taronga and Melbourne zoos are also assisting with the training of Thailand captive animal management staff and providing financial support to an in situ (field) elephant conservation project in Thailand. A positive relationship has been built with the Thailand Government officials and the project has received the blessing of the King.

“Elephants are very much a priority species here at Auckland Zoo, and through them we focus many of our conservation efforts within Asia,” says Glen Holland, Auckland Zoo Director.

“This includes providing funding and expertise to a Sumatran orangutan conservation project, a field conservation project in Vietnam, and elephant conservation project in Thailand.” (Auckland Zoo is also actively involved in supporting local conservation projects, among them the restoration project, “Ark in the Park” in the Waitakere ranges).

“Elephants are also a key species used to advocate the needs for greater conservation in Asia. Approximately 2500 elephants in Thailand are domesticated, and it is from this stock that captive-born animals are being sourced for the consortium,” points out Mr Holland.

“There is insufficient habitat space left in Thailand for the approximately 2500 wild animals. As a result, human/elephant conflict is a common occurrence, and results in numerous deaths of each every year. It is in one of these high conflict areas that Auckland, Taronga and Melbourne zoos are assisting to provide a solution.”

As with many endangered species, elephants are being managed regionally to move towards a self-sustaining population that will require breeding, and it is for this reason that Auckland Zoo is hoping to acquire a young bull along with a young cow.

21st century captive elephant management concentrates on the welfare of the animals, and the support offered to in situ (field) projects.

“Our programme here at Auckland Zoo is based on a hands-on principle where staff have free contact with the elephants that includes them being regularly taken out of their enclosures for additional physical and psychological enrichment. It’s regarded as progressive, is admired regionally and internationally, and includes our staff providing regular encounters that include a display of natural elephant behaviours together with a talk on conservation issues and measures.

“If there is any concern over our elephant husbandry whatsoever, or anything in relation to our elephants' welfare, we would welcome a visit from representatives from organisations voicing concern, to directly observe and assess our zoo's elephant programme,” says Mr Holland.

Current time frames indicate that the elephants will possibly enter New Zealand by the end of this year/early next year.

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