Mara the elephant, born in India and an adopted porteño of many years, began her journey from Buenos Aires to a sanctuary in Brazil on Saturday, in a move experts hope will improve her quality of life.
The elephant, aged between 50 and 54 years old, spent the first part of her life as a circus attraction. In 1995, she was brought to the now-shuttered Buenos Aires City Zoo (now the Ecoparque) in the heart of bustling Palermo and has remained there ever since.
Her 2,000-kilometre trip to her new home was scheduled for January, but after being pushed back, it's now taking place despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Her handlers say specific protocols have been adopted to protect the animal and her technical team from the coronavirus.
The trip has taken a lot of planning. Due to the pandemic, two technical teams will participate in the transfer, one belonging to the Ecoparque, who will accompany her to the Argentine border, where a team from the Brazilian sanctuary will take over for the rest of the trip.
In an operation that took about three hours at the Ecoparque, Mara was lifted into a huge box specially prepared for its transfer, which was placed on a truck with the help of a crane.
The truck departed after 6pm local time for its final destination in Chapada dos Guimarães, the city where the 1,200-hectare elephant sanctuary in Mato Grosso is located. The trip is estimated to take between four and five days, say officials.
"Since we started the transformation of the Ecoparque we've been waiting for this moment. We are all very mobilised, moved, as we are every time we move an animal. We are going to miss Mara very much, but we know it is the best destination for her," said Eduardo Macchivalli, the City government's environment secretary.
Mara, an Asian elephant, previously hared the enclosure with two African elephants, Kooky and Pupy. She eats around 1,000 kilos of vegetables, fodder and cane daily. Mara weighs about 5,500 kilos, is five metres long, two metres wide and three metres high.
The elephant becomes the latest high-profile animal to depart the Ecoparque for a new home – Sandra the oranguntan left for a sanctuary in Florida, the United States, last year.