Jumbo the elephant, who for 30 years was the star of the Whirling Brothers circus, is dead.
The elephant, who'd been renamed Mila, died unexpectedly and young for an elephant at San Diego Zoo in America. She was 44.
Elephants normally have a longevity of 60 to 70 years.
Damian Gordon, who now owns Whirling Brothers, re-named Circus Aotearoa, says the news was sad. “Terribly sad – especially considering she was picked up by an American sanctuary just a couple of years ago.”
The Circus Aotearoa big top, in which Jumbo entertained and delighted thousands of New Zealand children for three decades, was parked up for performances at Tauranga's Memorial Park just 10 days ago.
Damian Gordon worked for two or three years alongside Jumbo and her own owner Tony Ratcliff.
“They had something social going,” says Damian Gordon.
“They were devoted to one another. Tony would do anything for that elephant and the elephant would do anything for him.
”And people loved her – when she was in the ring kids went crazy. She gave a lot of joy.”
But unfortunately, says Damian, Tony and Jumbo got caught between times.
“Jumbo was a rescue elephant. When Tony picked her up he was doing her a favour.”
But then popular attitudes to circus animals changed. And Damian Gordon witnessed the concentrated campaign against Tony Ratcliff and Jumbo.
“He got a lot of grief - every week there would be someone protesting or doing something silly or disruptive. It was sad because right or wrong he cared for than animal.”
At the forefront of that campaign was the animal rights group SAFE. It eventually succeeded and Tony Ratcliff surrendered the elephant to the Franklin Zoo is South Auckland.
It was during the elephant's time at the zoo in 2012 that Jumbo or Mila killed a vet Dr Helen Schofield. The elephant picked her up and crushed her with her trunk.
After an uncertain future, Jumbo was transferred to the San Diego Zoo.
There has been an outpouring from sad fans of the elephant on social media.
Tony Ratcliff has described Jumbo as “an icon and a beautiful elephant and will be remembered by thousands”.
It's understood Jumbo had recently been given a veterinary clearance. The cause of death isn't known and an autopsy will be conducted.