Elephant held captive and alone for 35 years at zoo in Puerto Rico has been freed

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A 41-year-old elephant named Mundi, who had been living in isolation at the Mayaguez Zoo in Puerto Rico for decades, arrived at the Elephant Refuge North America Sanctuary(ERNA) in Attapulgus, Georgia on Friday. The eight-feet tall, 8,000-pound elephant has been described as “calm and curious.”

The elephant arrived via a dedicated Boeing 747 plane ride from Puerto Rico to Jacksonville, Florida along with veterinarians and caregivers. From there she was transported by truck to the sanctuary for a total of 1,400 miles.

Mundi had been born in the African savanna and had been one of 63 young elephants brought to the United States in 1984 by an eccentric millionaire, Arthur Jones; who brought them to his estate in Ocala after a mass culling in Zimbabwe left the animals orphaned.

Two years later, Jones sold the elephants to zoos, circuses and private individuals. One of the elephant’s – Mundi- had been attacked, and as a result of her injuries blinded in one eye and one of her tusks had been damaged. The elephant was then sold to the Mayaguez Zoo.

Since 1988, Mundi has lived alone in a 15,000 square feet shelter, and every night she was chained to make sure she couldn’t escape. The zoo closed in 2017 after Hurricane Maria, when it lost its USDA license for animal cruelty and neglect. Mundi and other zoo exotic animals were left. Before that time, Mundi had been forced to perform tricks and pose for photographs daily.

Finally, in February 2023, the US Department of Justice ordered the zoo’s closure and the relocation of all the remaining animals to reputable sanctuaries.

The rescue and relocation of Mundi had been planned and carried out by World Animal Protection, Wild Animal Sanctuary and Elephant Aid International. The Georgia sanctuary has 850 acres of beautiful countryside along with streams, ponds and creeks.

Elephants from around the world have been welcomed at the refuge where each elephant receives the care they need.

The sanctuary is not open to the public, however there are live stream cameras placed throughout the sanctuary, and the public is invited to watch the elephants spend their retirements being spoiled, being catered to and just enjoying their new found freedoms and comraderies with other elephants. The sanctuary is able to accommodate 10 elephants at a time; Mundi is their third.

Perhaps it is sad that Mundi was not able to be released in her native environment, but her extended life in captivity likely would have precluded her abilities to survive in the wild. Retiring at a sanctuary where she will be relaxing and finally enjoying her freedom and will no longer be chained at night will bring this sweet animal some peace.

Each elephant receives individualized care that takes into account past traumas and life-shaping experiences. The elephants have autonomy and the ability to choose where and with whom they spend their time. At the same time, we support them in developing the confidence and skills required to bond with other elephants, each at their own pace.

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