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Elephant Nandi still in Sri Lanka

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 8/08/2016 Karen Sweeney

There's an elephant in the courtroom and Auckland Zoo's not saying a word.

Five-year-old Asian elephant Nandi should already be in her new home at the zoo after being gifted to Prime Minister John Key by Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena in February.

But legal action by more than a dozen community groups has delayed, and may even prevent, her from leaving her current home at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.

The Dharmavijaya Foundation is one of 18 groups who have petitioned the Sri Lankan Court of Appeal in an attempt to keep Nandi in the country.

Their petition reportedly states that Sri Lanka is one of few countries home to the rare and vulnerable elephas maximus species, and that exporting elephants like Nandi to be displayed for commercial purposes is ill-conceived.

A decision was expected this month, but the court has now ordered Nandi remain in Sri Lanka until at least after the next court appearance on September 27.

Local media have indicated the case may become a test case for discontinuing the practice of gifting Asian Elephants to foreign dignitaries and heads of state.

Auckland Zoo has revealed it does not know the details of the petition currently before the court, and will not comment on the case.

But zoo director Jonathan Wilcken spoke out to correct claims Nandi's gifting was for commercial purposes.

"Auckland Zoo does not make money from having elephants, but it is through our elephant programme that we can continue and further our support to elephant conservation," Auckland Zoo director Johnathan Wilcken said in a statement to NZ Newswire.

Last year Asian elephant Anjalee arrived at the zoo, also from Sri Lanka's Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, and was doing well under the elephant team's expertise.

"We are very much looking forward to welcoming Nandi to be part of our elephant family and to strengthening the long-standing close working relationship we already have with Sri Lanka to assist both captive and wild Asian elephants in their country," Mr Wilcken said.

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