Elephants set to move to world's smallest nation
But there are fears the animals could trample banana plantations on tiny island of Niue
A REMOTE island in the South Pacific is set to welcome a pair of elephants to its shores after Auckland Zoo said it was pressing ahead with plans to quarantine the animals there.
The New Zealand zoo wants to bring in two orphaned Asian elephant calves from Sri Lanka as company for its lone female, Burma, who lost her mate Kashin in 2009.
However, strict quarantine rules mean that because there is foot and mouth disease in Sri Lanka the animals cannot be flown direct to New Zealand. So the zoo has decided to ask Niue, the world's smallest state, to host the elephants for three months.
Earlier this summer TVNZ reported that "the Pacific is being eyed up as a likely candidate as there is no animal export industry at stake". The Cook Islands declined to help, saying the risks were too high. But nearby Niue is ready to offer the elephants a sanctuary and Radio New Zealand International this week confirmed that it could become their temporary home.
Jonathan Wilcken, head of Auckland Zoo, says the process of bringing the elephants to New Zealand will be a lengthy one. "They will have to undergo a quarantine programme in their country of origin," he explains.
"Then, accompanied by a small team of elephant specialists they'll be sent by air to the island of Niue for further medical checks and quarantine procedures before coming to Auckland."
The tiny nation of Niue, with a population of 1,400, once hosted an alpaca quarantine station and is now preparing for the arrival of the elephants. However, there are fears they could cause havoc, trampling banana and taro plantations on the 260sq km tropical island if they escape from their holding pen.
There have been reports on social media that the animals could be on the island by November, although there has also been criticism of the Niuean government, which has not commented on the possibility that the island could be about to adopt a pair of elephants. ·