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Puerto Ricans have mixed feelings about their elephant moving to Georgia

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

With Puerto Rico's debt crisis spiraling, the island's zoo was forced to close, sparking a massive animal evacuation. The biggest move involved Mundi, an African elephant. We're going to hear first from NPR's Adrian Florido, who witnessed her departure, then from WFSU's Margie Menzel about how Mundi is doing now.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Mundi was two days from boarding a cargo jet that would fly her to her new home at an elephant refuge in Georgia, and Carol Buckley, who would be her new caretaker there, was trying to coax her into a giant transport crate - practice for the day of the trip.

CAROL BUCKLEY: There's my girl. You want some watermelon?

FLORIDO: Things were tense at the zoo. Armed federal agents were standing guard 'cause people angry that Mundi was being taken off of Puerto Rico had been talking on social media about ways to sabotage the trip.

BUCKLEY: People have very mixed emotions about her leaving, but the number of Puerto Ricans who have talked to me crying because they love Mundi so much - but saying, please take her and give her a better life.

FLORIDO: It was time to go. Mundi the elephant was still reluctant to enter her crate, so the transport team gently forced her in by tying a rope around her front foot. Just before midnight, Mundi, a rhino, two hippopotamuses, a donkey and an impala were on their way to the airport. People lined the route to wave goodbye. A crane hauled Mundi into the side of the massive 747. Just beyond the airport fence, a small crowd gathered. Miriam Nunez was there.

MIRIAM NUNEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "On the one hand, I'm happy," she said, "because I know Mundi's going to be better off. But on the other hand, I'm sad because she's left."

MARGIE MENZEL, BYLINE: When Mundi first arrived in Georgia, she was kept apart from the other elephants by a fence. Carol Buckley says she wasn't sure how the others would react. But one of them, called Tarra, took an interest right away.

BUCKLEY: I wanted to feed Mundi and Tarra close together. She picked up her food and brought it right over to the fence line here so she could be eating with Mundi. I think that is really good.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELEPHANT TRUMPETING)

BUCKLEY: But it would be inappropriate for us to rush it.

MENZEL: That elephant talking there was 36-year-old Bo. He also welcomed Mundi at the fence. And once it was taken down, he became her playmate. In her former life, Mundi was on public display - not now.

BUCKLEY: They feel all the vibration and energy that comes into their area, which is one of the reasons we're not open to the public 'cause I can't control people's energy.

MENZEL: A month ago, Buckley thanked the people of Puerto Rico for letting Mundi go to a better life. The elephant is now free to roam, surrounded by her new friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF IKEBE SHAKEDOWN'S "THE BEAST")

MARTÍNEZ: That's Margie Menzel in Tallahassee, Fla., and Adrian Florido reporting from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

(SOUNDBITE OF IKEBE SHAKEDOWN'S "THE BEAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
Margie Menzel