Mundi moving to Elephant Refuge North America (ERNA) gives us a perfect opportunity to discuss the cohabitation of African and Asian elephants in captivity.
In the wild African and Asian elephants live on different continents and would never naturally have the opportunity to cohabitate. But in captivity, things are different.
One reason for keeping the species separate in captivity is that in 1978, in the Chester Zoo, a bull calf named “Motty” was born after an African and Asian elephant mated. Despite intensive nursing care, Motty died two weeks after his birth. In an effort to keep the species pure, captive breeding programs do not mix the two species.
But the question remains, can the two species cohabitate in captivity? And the answer is yes.
We have learned that just because two captive-held animals are the same species does not guarantee compatibility. The determining factor regarding compatibility relies heavily on each individual’s personality and life experience. In captivity, compatibility is not about what species they are but who they are as individuals and what they have experienced in their lifetime.
There are many captive-held Asian elephants that are not compatible with other Asians. Just as there are captive-held African elephants that are not compatible with members of their species. What is helpful to understand is that compatibility is personal and not dictated by species.
How many captive-held elephants do you know of who live alone in a facility that has other elephants? Think about it: they are the same species but living separately from each other. The elephant’s personality, life experience, and comfort level in their home determine if individuals will get along—not their species.
Because we know Bo and Tarra deeply and have witnessed their lack of speciesism with their two dogs and their caregivers, we are confident they will accept Mundi without reservation. Additionally, the time that I’ve spent observing Mundi’s demeanor and connection to her keepers strongly suggests she, too, will be receptive to developing relationships with Bo and Tarra.
The key will be to give Mundi the space and time to decide for herself what she wants and when. We owe her the right to choose what makes her feel safe and comfortable.