Taronga Western Plains Zoo is mourning the passing of Yum Yum, our much loved African Elephant. We estimate Yum Yum at 42 years of age, she has been the matriarch of the African Elephant herd at Taronga Western Plains Zoo since they first arrived on the 12th December, 1977.
Over the years we have tried to find out information about her origins, we only know the records state she was wild caught in the early 70’s as an orphan, we believe somewhere in Kenya. Yum Yum, along with Cheri, Cuddles and David, travelled from Longleat Safari Park in the UK to Australia on a P&O ship. We have recently had emails from a gentleman who shared the trip over with them and remembers them docking at Fiji where all the locals came to bring them banana palms as they had never seen an Elephant before. They quarantined at Taronga Zoo in Sydney before travelling out to Dubbo by truck.
Over the years, two other African Elephants Toto and Congo joined the herd, both they as well as Cheri and David have now all passed on and with Yum Yum’s passing, Cuddles is the last of the African Elephants in Australia.
Yum Yum was a fantastic matriarch. She was level headed, calm and often stubborn! She was very intelligent and would learn a new behaviour within a day or two. In recent years Yum Yum and Cuddles have enjoyed learning a variety of new behaviours as part of a more intensive approach to their management. This ranged from various husbandry behaviours to more fun things like kicking a ball around, sucking and blowing water, pushing large tree stumps around, waving and painting. Yum Yum was a vigorous painter, as with most things she was all brawn (as you would expect with 4.7 tonnes behind you!). She could cover a canvas with a few quick brush strokes and loved to do blow paintings. Whenever we got the easel out, Yum Yum would start making her gurgling noise which was a sign of pleasure.
This gurgling noise was unique to Yum, it was the first sound to greet us as we arrived in the shed in the mornings and as she waited for her breakfast. She would also gurgle constantly whilst drinking from HER hose, a green garden hose we would hook up to the warm tap for her morning drink.
By far the highlight of Yum Yum’s day was her early morning walks with Cuddles. If we were too slow getting ready to go, she would go outside and stand at the gate, just to hurry us up! Yum Yum loved to explore new areas around the zoo, but her favourite place to visit was the old browse pile at the back of the zoo and she would always speed up when we headed in this direction.
Yum Yum was well named as she loved her food. She would often collect treats in her mouth and then stand and suck on a wad of goodies going into what we called ‘a Yum Yum trance’. So when Yum Yum stopped eating on Saturday keepers and vets knew that she was not going to come through this most recent digestive upset. Yum Yum was put to sleep on Sunday morning surrounded by keepers and vet staff that loved her. She was stoic and brave until the end, giving kisses to keepers right up until she went to sleep. She was one of a kind and has left a huge hole in the hearts of the Elephant team at Dubbo.
Goodbye Yum Yum and thank you for 33 years of giving pleasure to visitors and staff at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, you will be sorely missed.
- Elephant Keeper team at Taronga Western Plains Zoo