HomeOutdoorsNewsAfrican elephant finds new home in wildlife sanctuary after 35 years in captivity

African elephant finds new home in wildlife sanctuary after 35 years in captivity

by Caitlin Berard
African elephant in Amboseli national park
(Photo by Andre Anita via Getty Images)

After spending 35 years in captivity, isolated and exploited, Mundi the African elephant has finally found a safe and happy home at a wildlife sanctuary.

Now 41 years old, Mundi was a victim of a mass culling ordered by the government of Zimbabwe in 1984 when she was only two years old. Though Mundi herself survived, she lost both parents.

For reference, elephant calves remain with their mothers for 16 years, nearly the same amount of time as human children.

Now 41 years old, Mundi grew up not only orphaned but in captivity. Just a few years after losing her parents, the then-6-year-old calf was captured from the wild and sold to Mayaguez Zoo in Puerto Rico. From there, things only grew more difficult for the young African elephant.

While in captivity at the zoo, Mundi was kept isolated, going against the highly social nature of an elephant. Zoo officials also regularly forced her to perform for visitors.

Retired zoo and circus elephants find peace at the Georgia sanctuary

On Friday, however, after spending 35 years alone in an immensely stressful environment, Mundi finally found freedom. Working together, the World Animal Protection (WAP) and Wild Animal Sanctuary and Elephant Aid International (EAI) arranged for the elephant’s transport to the Elephant Refuge North American sanctuary (ERNA) in Attapulgus, Georgia.

African elephants live 60-70 years on average. So even though she’s no longer a calf, she has years, hopefully decades, left to live. As horrific as the first half of Mundi’s life was, the second half will be equally as peaceful.

While at the zoo, Mundi the African elephant lived in a half-acre enclosure. She had no room to roam and only an enclosed shelter for safety. During the day, zoo officials kept her on display at all times, forcing her to perform tricks and pose for pictures.

In contrast, her new home at the elephant sanctuary boasts 850 acres of land featuring lush pastures and forests as well as spring-fed lakes, creeks, and streams. In addition, the location was chosen carefully. Thanks to the mild climate of Attapulgus, Mundi and her fellow elephants can roam freely virtually year-round.

Rescuers are working to free African elephants and other exploited animals worldwide

Like Mundi, the other elephants at the sanctuary came from zoos and circuses. As a result, they all carry a heavy amount of trauma and distrust for humans. But the sanctuary is well-prepared for these obstacles, offering each animal individualized care and compassion.

“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 circumstances,” Lindsay Oliver, with World Animal Protection, U.S., told Newsweek. “Most importantly, she will never again be forced to perform for visitors.”

Rather than trapped in a barren enclosure, the African elephant now spends her days wandering the sprawling acreage of her home while enjoying her favorite foods – pineapple, watermelon, and broccoli – at her leisure.

No longer living in isolation, Mundi is the third elephant at the sanctuary. At maximum capacity, they can care for ten. Human visitors are strictly prohibited, though they’re welcome to observe the elephants from live-stream cameras throughout the refuge.

Thankfully, the inhospitable zoo in which the African elephant lived is now defunct. After receiving dozens of violations from expired food to lack of veterinary care, the zoo closed permanently.

With Mundi safe and sound in a sanctuary, World Animal Protection and agencies like it are turning their attention to the countless other animals trapped in similar nightmares.

“We’re thrilled for Mundi, but there are still thousands of wild animals used for entertainment,” Oliver said. “We’ll continue to fight until every animal is free from exploitation.”