Meet Auckland Zoo’s elephant team leader Andrew CoersOn October 10, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
Gidday, Gidday Good girl Good girl
You’re so clever How I actually got involved in the zoo was
through a career’s advisor at school going “look I really want to work with animals” and in my mind it was sort of Department of Conservation and how could I get
into that field and it was just by chance that she had mentioned that she’d sent someone
to Auckland Zoo for work experience and I said “oh, that’s bloody brilliant!” and then
yeah I managed to get some work experience in the native section and it all went from
there and I then volunteered on my weekends, so I was still going to school, and then I
would come up here on my weekends and just help out with the native team.
I guess growing up on a lifestyle block and then having, y’now being around animals and
I used to have a permit to hold some of our native gecko species which at my age back
then would have been, I don’t know I think, 13, 14.
y’know to have these sort of native species at home, it was in my bedroom at the time,
and then yeah having a lifestyle block, cows, sheep, all these sorts of things, dogs.
It was about three years working here before I started working elephants. Training
animals whether it was seals or camels or doing some stuff with giraffes at the time
or rhinos, elephants were kind of like the pinnacle when it comes to intelligence and
their ability to manipulate the relationship that you develop with them. It was like the
pinnacle of the species that you’d want to work with.
I think starting out the way that I did and basically experiencing a bunch of different species just really set a good foundation. The first time I meet Anjalee was eight years ago and that was after all the deliberation
between the government and working through the whole process around us bringing an elephant
to New Zealand. What we needed to keep a really close eye
on was how fatigued Anjalee gets and it was obvious at the later stage of the transport
that she was starting to get quite tired and I can tell you there were moments there where
I was getting really nervous. Massive journey to get Anjalee here to Niue
and it started for us in Sri Lanka at 2.30 in the morning and it was quite incredible
as we actually had to wake her up she was asleep going into the crate I couldn’t have
asked for any better from her. Now I just think how, yeah, how crazy
it all was, even to fly back in a Hercules is incredible in itself. Again I think her personality has worked in our favor and we were going through the
stage of actually identifying the right candidates that would suit a relationship with Burma
and that’s what the ultimate goal was to have a companion for Burma, or companions. Yeah like the whole introduction around her and Burma was interesting in itself and y’know
she was like ‘oh, it’s just another elephant’ which was a big deal for Burma but it wasn’t
necessarily a big deal for Anjalee and it wasn’t until they linked trunks through the
barrier at the time when it all just came together for Burma and then they were kind of inseparable
in a lot of ways For her and me, she trusts me a lot but I
still think she needs to give a lot more trust then perhaps she does but that’s just a time
thing and for me to make sure that I keep up and don’t get distracted with other things.
That I maintain the time and effort and energy that I would have normally had with her outside
of my other responsibilities of running the section.
There’s so many learnings going on through all of that process and as a team and even
as a team how it’s changed and evolved over the years, it’s been a massive learning thing
as well. In hindsight you look back and go yeah they’ve taught me so much about myself, so much about each other, so it’s
those sorts of things that you cherish and I guess I just still feel to this day
privileged that I’m one of seven people at this current time that gets to walk out there
and work with these incredible animals and and I just yeah, we’re just grateful
that we can do what we do. I’ve got no more treats, I’ve only got a couple
I say that so often, I’ve got no more treats and then they just happen to fall out of my