Elephants may have to pack

By Bernard Orsman

The global recession is being felt at Auckland Zoo where a $13.5 million succession plan for elephants Kashin and Burma is competing for a shrinking pool of Auckland City Council cash.

Zoo director Jonathan Wilcken wants money to build a herd of elephants. The giant animals have been a star attraction at the zoo for 80 years and it is the only place left where New Zealanders can see Asian elephants.

Kashin, who turned 40 in November, is under constant medical surveillance for arthritis and could die within five years. Because female elephants are extremely social animals, 26-year-old Burma, another female, would have to go to an overseas zoo for company unless the zoo can get new elephants.

The dilemma of phasing out elephants or building a herd of elephants comes before the council tomorrow, where the ruling group of Mayor John Banks and Citizens and Ratepayers will be highlighting the global recession to cut hundreds of millions of dollars of spending over the next 10 years.

Finance committee chairman Doug Armstrong yesterday said the council might have to pull something out of the hat to keep elephants at the zoo.

But he stopped short of making a definite commitment.

The matter was bigger than Auckland City and should include financial help from other councils, the Government and private sponsors, he said.

City Vision councillor Cathy Casey said the future of the elephants should be decided by the public. The way to do that was to provide in the proposed budget for consultation. City Vision would be tabling resolutions to put funding for a herd of elephants in the budget and hold a national fundraising campaign.

In a report to the council, Mr Wilcken said phasing out elephants would be a loss to New Zealand.

The prospect of this loss had already generated significant public interest.

The elephants attracted enormous public interest and empathy and were key to promoting the value of wildlife, he said.

Modern animal practice meant the zoo would have to look at building a herd of breeding animals. That would require acquiring 22,000sq m of land from the Western Springs park to add to the existing 4000sq m elephant enclosure. Male and female elephants would have separate enclosures.

The capital costs were $11 million, plus $2.45 million to import three new female and two male elephants in three lots between 2011 and 2015. It would cost up to $460,000 in annual operating costs, including up to 11 specialists staff, to maintain the herd.

Mr Wilcken said replacing the value of the elephants would require a species of equivalent flagship status, such as a gorilla group. This could cost more than $10 million and even a lower profile replacement species would involve substantial cost.

- NZ Herald

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