Mundi the rescued elephant in sanctuary

It’s Not Every Day You Get to Help Rescue an Elephant



Mundi’s rescue story.

The heat from the tarmac at the Jacksonville airport radiated through my grey cargo shorts as I sat waiting for an elephant to deboard a 747 cargo plane. Most days my job is filled with stories of suffering animals. But every once in a while, a special moment comes along where I get to help one of those animals. And this was one of them.

Mundi is a 41-year-old African Savannah elephant. Between 1965 and 1988, the Zimbabwe government killed over 50,000 elephants in five separate “cullings.” In 1984, at barely two years old, Mundi was one of 63 elephants who survived a mass killing. The young herd was purchased by a millionaire, put on a 22-hour flight to Florida, and then separated and sold to zoos and circuses. Mundi was sent to a zoo in Puerto Rico where she spent almost her entire life in a small enclosure, alone, and forced to perform tricks for tourists.

After multiple violations, the zoo lost its license in 2018. In February of 2023, the Department of Justice ordered the zoo to close and for all of the animals to be relocated to sanctuaries. Mundi was the only elephant.

Elephant Refuge North America (ERNA) was set to be Mundi’s new home, an 800-acre property in Georgia with two other elephants.

On May 12, 2023, I joined the rescue team on the ground in Florida. Mundi left Puerto Rico just a few hours earlier while we eagerly waited at the Jacksonville airport. After going through safety briefings, we were bussed out to the tarmac and stood on the side of the runway, waiting for Mundi’s plane to land. One of the airport crew members pointed to a plane out in the distance—Mundi’s plane.

Lindsay Oliver e Roberto Vieto, da Proteção Animal Mundial, acompanhando o resgate da Mundi. Ambos estão de costas, olhando para o avião que está ao fundo.

Waiting for Mundi to be loaded off the plane.

Once the tires of the white Atlas 747 hit the pavement, my heart flipped with excitement while my ears buzzed from the noise as the giant plane approached us. It was so close I could even see the engines spin while my hair chaotically blew in the wind—a cool experience. Special shout out to the amazing team at the Jacksonville Airport.

Shortly after, the large door on the side of the plane opened, and Mundi’s metal crate emerged. The moment I saw her snoot pressed up against the meshed side, it hit me. We’re helping change this elephant’s life.

As a former undercover investigator, I’ve spent much of my life documenting animals in some of the worst conditions, including elephants stuck in zoos and circuses—confined, chained, abused. Most never make it out of those industries alive. To be part of changing the life of just one of those individuals is an extraordinary moment. Being taken out of a lifetime of abuse and moved to a spacious sanctuary is something very few exploited animals get to experience.

A crane big enough to build skyscrapers in New York City lifted Mundi onto a transport truck. After getting hooked up to air conditioning, she was given hay and water for the road, and off we went.

During the four-hour drive to Georgia, we ran into torrential downpours and even a flat tire. The team persevered, and although it was dark and muddy, we all arrived safely at Elephant Refuge North America.

Mundi’s crate was backed up to an opening in a fence, big enough for her to walk through. Then, finally, what we had all been waiting for—the crate door was opened. We waited silently while slowly, the large, grey body appeared. Mundi was home.

Grades do recinto onde Mundi, uma elefanta resgatada, viverá. Ela está atrás das grades - em uma área verde e vasta -, que consta uma placa que diz "Bem-vinda ao seu novo lar, Mundi".

Mundi exploring her new surroundings.

As she walked out of the crate, her trunk waved into the air, exploring her new surroundings—smelling the grass and grabbing tree branches. In over 35 years, those were the first trees she touched. With all Mundi had been through, I was moved by her continued trust in humans.

Watching her come out of that crate with confidence, ease, grace, and positivity had me left without words. I couldn’t talk in that moment. The truck, the lights, and the other people faded into the darkness. It was just Mundi.

After giving us the gift of prancing alongside the fence in front of us, off into the dark forest she went.

Mundi will spend the rest of her life with lush trees, mud puddles, and even a natural lake. The lake on this property is one most humans would envy. She’ll make new elephant friends and thrive in a natural environment where she gets to be an elephant. No chains. No tricks. No onlookers. Just elephanting.

Today, out of the original 63 elephants brought to the US in 1984, Mundi and 18 others are still alive. The remaining elephants aren’t yet as lucky and are currently suffering in zoos and circuses. They deserve to be rescued too. And I hope Mundi’s story will give them that.

While the problems in our world can sometimes seem overwhelming, it’s important to remember that every day, we all have the opportunity to help animals. When you see an elephant forced to stand on a stool, a tiger in a cage, a bird in a pet store, or a cow whose been cut up into pieces and wrapped in plastic, remember you have a choice. You can pay to support that or not.

You have the power not to attend a circus or a zoo. You have the power not to buy an animal from a breeder. And you have the power not to buy animal products.

These everyday choices in life might not feel like much, but they have the power to end an entire industry of suffering. Or to give even one individual, like Mundi, a new home. One makes a difference. One is worth fighting for.

Mundi, uma elefanta savana africana, no santuário ERNA, na Geórgia.

Mundi at the ERNA sanctuary.

While this is the story of Mundi, there were over 500 animals at the zoo in Puerto Rico who are on their way to new homes. Special thank you to the Wild Animal Sanctuary for transporting all of the animals, including Mundi to new homes. To Elephant Refuge North America for creating a beautiful home for Mundi and a lifetime of care for her. To Elephant Aid International for orchestrating this rescue and helping to ensure Mundi is rescued. And to all of our supporters who help make this important work happen. It takes a lot of time, physical and emotional energy, and funding to help animals in need and we’re grateful for you.

Together, we’re changing the way the world works to end animal cruelty and suffering. Forever.

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