Tricia the elephant passes away

Tricia the Elephant in the Perth zoo. Pictures: Submitted

By Kathy Fennell

Who would have ever thought that the death of an elephant at the Perth zoo would have a link to Coonawarra.

The 65-year-old elephant who died earlier this month at the Perth zoo was named after Tricia Reschke (now Mrs Schooley) who was crowned Miss Australia in 1962.

Miss Reschke was a Coonawarra resident.

“Shortly after completing my 12-month tour as Miss Australia, I moved to Long Beach, California, and have lived here for the past 58 years.

“I was extremely saddened to hear of her death.

“Just the thought of having someone or something named after you is such a huge honour.

“As the oldest known elephant in captivity, this special mammal brought thousands of visitors to the zoo over the past 60 years,“ Mrs Schooley said.

From all reports Tricia the elephant became a treasured matriarch and icon who gave great pleasure interacting with handlers and guests.

The Pennant reporter asked Mrs Schooley why the zoo chose to name the elephant after her.

“Perhaps it was the ’perfect storm’.

“I had attended the British Commonwealth Games in Perth in November, 1962, almost immediately I was crowned, and the young five-year-old elephant arrived at the zoo on January 5, 1963.

How fortunate for me, it was a little female and probably the notoriety of holding the current prestigious title of Miss Australia led the curators of the zoo to choose my name for her,“ she said.

“Sadly I never had any interaction with her,“ Mrs Schooley said

“The two month overseas part of my touring began on January 1,1963 and Tricia arrived five days later.

“When I returned my schedule for the next eight months started in earnest with travels planned all over Australia as fundraisers for Spastic Centres.

“When it came to visiting West Australia apparently the organisers did not schedule a visit to the zoo, and when I returned to visit family in the following years, there just didn’t seem to be extra time to head to Perth.

“My children were privy to the number of articles written over the years about Tricia, but again, unfortunately we never made the trek to Perth.

“It always seemed just that much added distance to an already long trip from California.

“However they were always delighted, proud and excited to share in the clippings with their friends,“ Mrs Schooley said.

Mrs Schooley said about three years ago she wrote to the zoo curator to say that she had been following Tricia’s important milestones for many years.

“Throughout our home I have elephants displayed in various mediums with the largest being a ceramic piece at the door entry and the smallest being carved wooden candle holders on the dining room table,“ she said.

On learning on the death of Tricia, Mrs Schooley said she was absolutely devastated.

“I am so sad, and it was the end of an era, but she is now at peace and is in elephant heaven with her herd.“

There are a number of ways the zoo are going to perpetuate Tricia’s memory.

There has already been a memorial walk opened which follows one of her favourite routes through the zoo.

The zoo is also planning other memorial for her.

Due to Mrs Schooley’s love for elephants she and her family embarked on a safari adventure in Africa recently.

They were transported to an evening river cruise where for the first time they say elephants in the wild.

“It was an emotional sight to see these magnificent creatures moving from the river bank and swim across to the other side.

“We also observed another group of elephants mothering a baby calf.

“The gentleness these giants conveyed was endearing,“ Mrs Schooley said.

As part of the experience the family enjoyed a sunset ride on the back of the largest elephant in the pack.

“Witnessing these creatures in their natural surroundings will forever be an adventure of the heart,“ she said.