22 Jun 2015

Anjalee settles into Auckland life

11:57 am on 22 June 2015

It took five years to organise, $3 million and 11,000 kilometres of flying, but Auckland Zoo's newest elephant is finally here.

Five-year-old Asian elephant Anjalee flew in from Niue on an Air Force Hercules late yesterday afternoon, the final stage in her journey to Auckland from Sri Lanka.

Anjalee the elephant arriving at Auckland zoo.

Anjalee the elephant arriving at Auckland zoo. Photo: Supplied

Since its elephant matriarch Kashin died in 2009, the zoo has been on the look-out for new companions for its last remaining elephant, 32-year-old Burma.

Read more about Anjalee in our Spectrum story

Anjalee's journey to Auckland follows an agreement last year with the Pinnewala elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka to take on two of its female elephants.

The zoo's director, Jonathan Wilcken, was among zoo staff watching the elephant's arrival yesterday.

"[I'm] just so excited. It's taken us about five-and-a-half years to get to this point, so I'm feeling five-and-a-half years' worth of excitement building up here," he said.

Also watching was Sergeant Dave Cresswell, an Air Force loadmaster on the Hercules that flew Anjalee from Sri Lanka to quarantine in Niue, and then from Niue to Auckland.

Elephants arriving to Auckland Zoo. Anjalee pictured with Auckland Zoo’s Elephant Team Leader Andrew Coers

Elephants arriving to Auckland Zoo. Anjalee pictured with Auckland Zoo’s Elephant Team Leader Andrew Coers Photo: Auckland Zoo

The five-hour flight to Auckland went smoothly, but 1.7 tonne Anjalee made for an interesting passenger, he said.

"She is a very large animal and today [she] was quite energetic... She was also making everyone aware that she was on board by talking to us quite a bit," he said.

"She was trumpeting quite a bit and then swaying around her small cage there."

Manoeuvring Anjalee into her new enclosure was also a painstaking task.

A crane lifted her crate into the air slowly before swivelling it over the fence and placing it gently onto the ground.

Her keepers, who have been working with her for nine months now, reassured her through the slats of the crate before opening it and ushering her out.

She looked around briefly before they led her into a barn at the back of the enclosure, where she was introduced to Burma.

Making friends with Burma was the first step, Mr Wilcken said.

"They can see each other, they can smell each other, they can talk to each other - they can't yet touch each other. And so they'll just be really interested seeing what on earth they've walked into."

It would be a few weeks before people would be able to see Anjalee, but she was in good spirits, he said.

"She's curious, she can be a little cheeky at times - she's just like a young kid really, in many respects. But she's certainly a very confident elephant and that's why we feel strongly that she's going to get on well."

The second female elephant from Sri Lanka was likely to come to New Zealand in the next couple of years, Mr Wilcken said.

Once a female herd was established, the zoo would then start looking for a male elephant so it could start a breeding programme.