Mollie the Asian elephant was beloved by the children in the audience of Bullen’s Circus.
The 13-year-old elephant from Thailand was part of one of the biggest Australasian circuses which routinely toured New Zealand. She was known for her ability to stand on her back legs and for being able to do a headstand on her front legs. Mollie was often the star of the big ring.
She had been one of five baby elephants bought by Stafford Bullen from Thailand in 1947.
Whatever we think of animals performing now, back in the 1950s it was a big business and Mollie and the troupe of eight other performing elephants were huge drawcards.
Sadly however, Mollie met her end in New Zealand. While on a walk in Ohakune she broke away from her handler, ate some tutu plant and was immediately poisoned to death.
Tutu - coriaria arborea - is widespread and responsible for quite a number of deaths including some of the first livestock brought here by Captain James Cook.
All parts of the plant are poisonous except the soft black fleshy petals.
It acts on the central nervous system leading to nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, seizures, convulsion, affects breathing and can lead to a comatose state.
Deaths from consuming toxic honey (from bees visiting tutu plants) were recorded in the 1800s, but non-fatal poisonings have been more recently reported. There have been 9 cases since 1974 with the last occurring in 1991 in the Eastern Bay of Plenty area and 2008 in the Coromandel.
So what do you do with a dead elephant in Ohakune?
You bury it of course. Mollie was buried near the main trunk line near the entrance to the Tongariro National Park.
A bit later in the year an Auckland University biology technician Derek Challis (who died earlier this year) got permission to exhume the body and removed Mollie’s skull - which is now on display at the McGregor Museum primate display.
And many years after Mollie’s death - a plaque, put up by the Raetihi-Ohakune Rotary Club is now at her gravesite.
Pic is by artist Raymond McIntyre.
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