Elephant Aid International welcomes third elephant, Mundi

Published 4:14 pm Monday, May 15, 2023

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When Elephant Aid International first came to Attapulgus, founder Carol Buckley’s legal battle for custody of Tarra was still ongoing, and the sanctuary wouldn’t be approached about taking in Bo for a few years yet. The sanctuary’s inaugural resident was initially supposed to be Mundi, a female African elephant slated to be delivered from the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo, located in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. After years of delays and even protests, Mundi finally arrived in Attapulgus last Friday.

Originally born in Zimbabwe in 1982, Mundi was orphaned at an early age after a state culling killed most of her herd. She, along with 62 other baby elephant survivors, was first shipped to Florida, having been purchased by millionaire Arthur Jones, who subsequently sold them to various zoos, sanctuaries and private owners around the world.

Unfortunately for Mundi, the Rivero Zoo was a less than ideal home. Her exhibit was a fraction of an acre, and she spent most nights chained. She was also the zoo’s only elephant; female elephants are incredibly social in the wild, living in matriarchal herds comprised of cousins, aunts, sisters, mothers and grandmothers.

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The Rivero Zoo was closed in 2017 after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, and ultimately lost its license in 2018 for countless infractions, not just Mundi’s treatment. These infractions included expired food and medication, animals being euthanized without any medical reason, and even prey species on display, such as deer and guinea pigs, being fed to predators alive.

With the zoo’s closure and loss of license, the remaining animals were initially slated to be shipped to new homes in 2019, including Mundi, who would be Elephant Aid International’s first member. However, government issues in Puerto Rico led to all contracts involving the animals to be terminated, leaving Mundi and the rest of the zoo’s inhabitants in a state of limbo for years.

That was until in February this year. Following an investigation by the Department of Justice, an agreement was finally reached with the local government, ordering all animals be delivered to their new homes. Faced with the significant cost of both transporting Mundi and having a new mouth to feed, EAI received aid from both Pat Craig of the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, who oversaw the rescue of the other animals, and from World Animal Protection, who offered funding to prepare for Mundi’s arrival, and for her first three months of care.

The decision to close the zoo was controversial in Puerto Rico, with many activists and multiple keepers at the Rivero Zoo protesting and actively resisting the rescue efforts. Some activists antagonized Mundi during her crate acclimation training, banging pots and pans and making loud noise outside her enclosure, buzzing her with drones and even shooting her with pellets. She was even fed some unidentified food that caused irritation in her mouth. An investigation into the antagonism has been launched by authorities.

Mundi’s flight left after a brief delay on Friday morning, arriving at the Jacksonville International Airport around noon. Mundi was not the only animal rescued on the flight; a rhinoceros, two hippos, an impala and a donkey were also along for the ride. All the animal’s crates were loaded onto flatbed trucks. Several hours, nearly 200 miles, and one flat tire later, Mundi finally arrived at Elephant Aid International that night. She will be kept separate from Bo and Tarra until the three have a chance to acclimate to each other. In a previous interview with the Post-Searchlight, Buckley explained the decision to house Mundi, an African elephant, with two Asians. At her previous sanctuary in Tennessee, Buckley had made the decision to keep the elephant species separate based on Tarra’s initial fearful reactions to African elephants. She stated she has since realized this was more of an individual reaction from Tarra, and not general to all elephants. “When you look at our elephants, and look at how they get along with dogs and people, they don’t really see species,” Buckley previously said. Not only will Mundi no longer be alone, at EAI, Mundi will no longer be confined to a lot less than an acre in size, but will have 850 acres of hills, forests, creeks and ponds to enjoy. In a statement to Newsweek, Lindsay Oliver of World Animal Protection U.S. said, “In a sanctuary she will have more freedom to roam and autonomy over her life in as natural an environment as possible for an elephant in her circumstance.”

With EAI acquiring a new resident, the sanctuary is looking for additional equipment to help with daily tasks. “We currently have what we need to care for the elephants, but it would be nice to increase our farm equipment,” Buckley told the Post-Searchlight. Equipment such as an additional tractor and mower, as well as conveyors to help move loads of hay were some items mentioned. “Although we can get by without, it would be great to have a skid steer and a small backhoe,” she added. Additionally, with an influx of public interest in watching Mundi on the sanctuary’s Elecam livestream system, Buckley hopes to expand the camera network and its fiber optic connection. Volunteers willing to help with office work are also needed. “ With Mundi’s arrival we have lots of basic office chores to catch up on,” Buckley said.

For anyone interested in volunteering at Elephant Aid International, or in making a donation, they can be reached at 229-465-3115. As the sanctuary is not open to the general public, anyone interested in viewing Bo, Tarra and Mundi can watch them on the Elecam livestream on the sanctuary YouTube channel.