Perth Zoo has always been one of our favourite outings over the years (see here, here and here). We first went there on our elder daughter’s 3rd birthday back in October 1990 when we were newly arrived from the UK!
Since then Perth Zoo has developed considerably to reflect more progressive ways of accommodating wild animals in captivity.
It now has an African Savannah area, home to amongst others two Southern White Rhinos, lions and giraffes, and an Asian Rainforest enclosure, home to tigers, elephants, Sun Bears and a colony of Sumatran Orangutans.
In recent years a visit to the zoo has been a favourite family outing with the next generation (our two young granddaughters now aged 9 and 7) – a chance to see not only the animals but learn about the zoo’s important conservation work.
It was therefore with heavy hearts that we heard this week that one of the zoo’s most treasured residents, Tricia the elephant, was in steep decline and in her final days. She passed peacefully away at the ripe old age (for an Asian elephant, especially in captivity) of 65 years on Wednesday evening surrounded by her beloved keepers.
Tricia arrived in Perth in 1963 (along with another elephant Tania) from an animal dealer in Singapore in less enlightened times when “exotic” animals were just seen as an attraction for entertainment. She had been born in the wild in Vietnam and somehow had found her way from Saigon to Singapore. Until the mid 1980s she was housed in a concrete enclosure not free to wander about as she would have been in the wild nor provided with the companionship and stimulation she needed to flourish. Tania, her companion, was re-homed to an Australian circus in 1971 (again common practice at the time). Tania passed away from a long-standing liver complaint in 2003 aged 46 having been retired to an exotic garden and animal park on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Happily for Tricia, in 1992, three young elephant calves (then 3 years old) arrived from a Malaysian Zoo to start a small herd in Perth. A new enclosure had been built for them all in the Asian Rainforest Zone (at least before then in 1986 Tricia’s concrete enclosure had been demolished and she had been moved to a far more open enclosure with vegetation, plenty of sand and a pool).
Tricia took on the role of matriarch of the elephant family and became known as a gentle giant – she went on daily walks with her keepers through the beautiful gardens and enjoyed enrichment activities such as swimming, playing ball and trunk painting. Sadly one of the younger elephants, a female called Teduh, passed away due to ongoing health problems in 2007 (deeply mourned by Tricia) but the second young female calf, Permai (now 33) has been Tricia’s constant companion, in effect her adopted daughter. The bull elephant, Putra Mas (also 33) has his own enclosure as the males live more solitary lives than the far more gregarious female elephants.
I’ve compiled a selection of photos that we’ve taken over the past few years at the zoo (somewhere I’ll have some older ones but these are the digital ones). Tricia is the slightly lighter of the two female elephants. Permai is a little darker and seems to have more fur on the top of her head. Also Tricia appears to have some sort of bandage on the side of her back in some of the photos (not sure why, she only had it on the one visit). We don’t seem to have taken any recent photos of the bull elephant, Putra Mas, but there are a couple on an older post here. You can recognise him by his tusks. The female duo seem to be far more sociable and easier to photograph!
On one of our visits in 2019 we were fortunate enough to encounter Tricia on one of her regular walks through the zoo grounds. It was an amazing experience at the time – she just calmly sauntered past us with her two keepers so close that we could have touched her (though of course we didn’t!). She was so gracious and majestic – truly beautiful. Fortunately we managed to get some wonderful photos to treasure forever.
Times have again moved on and best practice for elephant animal husbandry now is for them to live with herds in open range zoos or sanctuaries where they can have far more space to roam than in an inner city zoo, plus be part of a larger herd.
Therefore, in 2018, Perth Zoo announced that, when the time came and Tricia passed on, the remaining elephants would be moved to a more suitable location either within Australia or overseas in their best interests. The process won’t be rushed least of all because Permai and Putra Mas need to be given as much time as possible to grieve their loss (especially Permai who was constantly by Tricia’s side). Also there are considerable logistical problems of safely transporting elephants even when a suitable open range zoo or sanctuary has been found for them. So for now the two remaining elephants will continue to live in Perth Zoo and in time we will hopefully see them back in their respective enclosures even if it is not going to be permanent.
Deepest condolences to Tricia’s dedicated carers, Permai and Putra Mas and everyone at Perth Zoo at this heartbreaking time. What a special soul she was – the tributes from her carers are so poignant, loving and beautiful (see here)
Her memory will live on through the many people she touched during her long life and the important conservation work for endangered elephants set up in her name (Tricia Tribute to Conservation Fund).
Copyright © 2022 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose