Letter from Lucy Melo, Elephant Keeper

Letter from Lucy Melo, Elephant Keeper

#Taronga Zoo Sydney

Posted on 22nd November 2012 by Media Relations

From the bottom of my heart, I just want to let everyone know how extremely grateful I am for all the love and support that was sent to me during my recovery process.  The well wishes, cards, flowers, and gifts from friends, family and even complete strangers meant so much to me, and I truly believe it led to my speedy recovery.  I want to extend a special thank you to my work mates, who attended to me immediately and handled the situation with total professionalism and compassion.

I am also eternally grateful to the all the paramedics who treated me on the scene, and credit them with saving my life.  The trauma team and cardiothoracic doctors and nurses at Royal North Shore hospital were outstanding in their care and treatment for me, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them.  I also want to express my heartfelt gratitude to my sister, who travelled from Canada to keep me company and help in my recuperation.  And finally, I want to express my love and admiration for my partner Gary.  He has been my rock, and I appreciate all those who supported him through all of this as well.

I also want to take the opportunity to explain Pathi Harn’s actions.  As many remember, Pathi’s birth 2 ½ years ago was indeed a miracle as he was presumed dead in the womb.  Being a part of getting Pathi Harn well and on his feet after such a dramatic and traumatic start to life remains one of the biggest highlights of my career.

Since then, Pathi Harn has flourished.  One area he particularly excelled in was training.  He loved interacting with the keepers and really enjoyed the games and activities that we would engage him in.  However the one area he did not thrive in was confidence. He was much more cautious than our other calves, and required a lot of reassurance and encouragement.  He would even become anxious if a new toy was introduced to him!  Because of this he had low status in the herd and remained at the bottom of the hierarchy.

In the days leading up to my accident, one of our female elephants, 13 year old Tang Mo, was coming into season.  We noticed Pathi taking quite an interest in her.  They were constantly sparring and playing in the pool.  For Pathi this would have been good practice at behaving like bull elephant.  For Tang Mo, it was all in fun as she would still have considered him a calf, and not a potential mate!  We watched as Pathi and Tang Mo were playing in the pool one day, and Tang Mo attempted to get out of the pool.  Pathi did not want her to leave, so he challenged her by blocking her exit from the pool, and actually managed to push her back in!  We were all astonished to see this, as Tang Mo is over 3000 kilos and Pathi is only 1000 kilos.  Tang Mo of course could have put an end to this, but she was having too much fun and kept allowing Pathi to push and shove on her.  We could see that Pathi’s confidence was finally growing.

A couple of days later after Pathi’s daily bath, I was engaging Pathi in a training session in the barn.  He was enjoying it as usual.  As the session was coming to an end, I asked for one simple final behaviour.  He offered me a slightly different behaviour than the one I had asked.  I asked him again for the correct version.   When he did not respond, I sensed a behavioural change in him and realised he was thinking of challenging me.  I immediately tried to redirect his thoughts by asking him for a different behaviour, and at the same time I was making my way out of the stall. Unfortunately, just as I was almost out, he raised his trunk and pinned me against one of the metal bollards.  His trunk on my chest took my breath away, which made it impossible for me to talk and tell him to stop.  But my co-workers immediately reacted, and stepped in to move him away from me.  He was completely fine afterwards, and acted as though nothing had happened.

While juvenile male elephants will often challenge and test their boundaries as they mature, we were taken aback to see it happen in a calf as young as Pathi. 

Pathi continues to do well and is now being worked in a more protected management style that is better suited to up and coming bull elephants!

As for me, all I can do now is to wait for some fractured ribs to heal.  I am so looking forward to getting back to work, and seeing all the elephants again, especially Pathi Harn!