Mila, a 41-year-old African elephant and current resident of the San Diego Zoo, has not had the easiest life, but things have finally started to get better.
After being captured and removed from her family group in her native Namibia, she spent the majority of her life as a circus performer in New Zealand without any contact with others of her kind. The stress of capture and circus life took its toll, and she was only very belatedly retired with the help of Dr. Helen Schofield and the Auckland-based Franklin Zoo. Sadly, Dr. Schofield died while caring for a very frightened Mila in 2012.
On Schofield's behalf, zoo workers ensured that her plans to reunite Mila with other elephants continued moving forward. Last year, Mila was flown to the San Diego Zoo and its Elephant Odyssey complex.
Mila remained in quarantine during the Christmas season as she adjusted to her surroundings, but was recently given the opportunity to make her first new elephant acquaintance in 37 years: Mary, a kind and patient herd matriarch. The video of the long-awaited touching event can be seen above.
A former friend from the Franklin Zoo, Erin Ivory, also posted a blog describing the elephants' blossoming friendship. "Their first interaction was amazing to watch. Mila started off a bit unsure and charged the gate flaring her African sized ears at Mary," wrote Ivory, but as evidenced by the video above, they soon became close. Mila has been closely observing Mary to learn elephant social cues and behavior, and is now comfortable enough to nap beside her, which is, according to Ivory, "a clear demonstration of relaxation and trust."
It's incredible to think an elephant so many years removed from interaction with her own species could begin to find her place within it so quickly, but with the love and care of her trainers and new herd, Mila is going be just fine.
The way she holds onto Mary's trunk in the video is a clear gesture of affection, maybe one that she remembers from her childhood in Namibia. You know what they say -- elephants never forget.