Auckland Zoo's only two Asian elephants will be moved to a new home overseas after staff became concerned about the animals' long-term health and wellbeing.
The zoo announced it had taken the heartbreaking decision to move Anjalee and Burma on Wednesday morning, saying the pair need a multi-generational family herd to ensure they can flourish in the future.
While the right destination is still being sought for the elephants, Auckland Zoo anticipates their last day in New Zealand will be in mid-2021.
"I think we've all heard the phrase that, 'the right decision is often the hardest one to make', many, many times before, but I’ve never really felt it to the extent that I do today," said Auckland Zoo director Kevin Buley.
"We are all absolutely gutted that Burma and Anjalee will be leaving us, as we have worked so hard to establish an elephant family for them here in New Zealand.
"However, we know that, for their long-term well-being, we now need to put our own feelings aside and do the right thing by them both."
In 2011, Auckland Zoo announced its intentions to establish a larger herd of elephants - but significant obstacles in the years since have meant this never eventuated.
Another female was expected to arrive from Sri Lanka in 2015 but never arrived, while five artificial insemination attempts with Anjalee have all proven unsuccessful.
Anjalee, who is now 14 and needs to get pregnant soon to avoid long-term reproductive health issues, will now be donated to a zoo with a bull elephant so she is able to mate naturally.
Auckland Zoo says after all its challenges, it's simply no longer in a position to offer the elephants the long-term future they need.
"We are so proud of our elephant programme and the happy lives that Burma and Anjalee have with us," Buley said.
"Our elephant team is truly exceptional in the level of skill, dedication, and care that they provide, which is why this decision has been so much more difficult to take.
"Our two elephants are such an important part of our zoo whanau and we know how much they also mean to the millions of people that have found a connection with them and followed their lives with us over recent years."
The zoo says it will reveal details of which zoo Anjalee and Burma will be donated to when a decision on the matter has been made.