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Saved from a Puerto Rico zoo, Mundi has already made elephant friends in her new home

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Earlier this month, we brought you the story of Mundi the elephant. For 35 years, Mundi lived in a tiny enclosure at the Puerto Rico Zoo - just a quarter of an acre. And she lived a solitary life as the zoo slowly declined and was eventually ordered to shut down earlier this year. Now Mundi's living at an elephant refuge in Georgia. And as Margie Menzel of WFSU reports, she's making friends.

MARGIE MENZEL, BYLINE: When Mundi first arrived in Georgia, she was kept apart from the other elephants by a fence. Carol Buckley, who cares for the animals here, says she wasn't sure how the others would react, but one of them, called Tarra, took an interest right away.

CAROL BUCKLEY: I'm kind of in shock. I wanted to feed Mundi and Tarra close together, and so I fed Tara over here. She picked up her food and brought it right over to the fence line here so she could be eating with Mundi. So you tell me what that means. I think that is really good.

MENZEL: Buckley is the founder of Elephant Aid International. She led the team that brought Mundi from Puerto Rico.

BUCKLEY: And the goal has always been that when she is comfortable, then she will be out with them. Yeah, but it's...

(SOUND OF ELEPHANT TRUMPETING)

BUCKLEY: ...It would be inappropriate for us to rush it. We want to see them together.

MENZEL: That elephant talking there was 36-year-old Bo. He also welcomed Mundi at the fence, and once it was taken down, he became her playmate. The three elephants now share 850 acres. In her former life, Mundi was on public display - not now. Even the volunteers here can observe them only from afar, as Phil Kiracofe does.

PHIL KIRACOFE: And now, to watch how both of them interact with Mundi, it's really fascinating to watch.

MENZEL: Elephants are intelligent and social. They especially respond to reunions, the birth of a new calf, or the death of a loved one. They're capable of complex emotions, and Buckley says they're sensitive to what's happening around them.

BUCKLEY: They feel all the vibration and energy that comes into their area, which is one of the reasons we're not open to the public 'cause I can't control people's energy.

MENZEL: The refuge has been taking in elephants for two years now. It's designed as a retirement community of sorts for those that have been working in zoos and circuses or privately owned, says Buckley.

BUCKLEY: They're recovering from the trauma that they experienced living in captivity. And for them to open up and trust you while you are there with them helping them work through it, it's indescribable.

MENZEL: A month ago, Buckley thanked the people of Puerto Rico for letting Mundi go to a better life. The elephant is now free to roam surrounded by her new friends. For NPR News, I'm Margie Menzel in Tallahassee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Margie Menzel

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