Maya, Lucky, & Hari

Three young Asian elephants went to great lengths to get here—literally—and they found a home in the hearts of children.
  • 1940s
  • 1980s

For little elephants, it was a big adventure. The trio’s journey to San Diego in 1941, accompanied by Zoo curator Karl Koch, took a total of seven months from the time they left Assam until they arrived at the Zoo. It included a 76-day trip aboard ship without stopping at any ports, which meant Karl had to ration the food he’d brought on board. This hadn’t been the plan, and the Zoo only found out later that the ship had to take a circuitous route—under radio silence—to avoid the possibility of attack by U-boats! Fortunately they arrived safely, although weary and a bit thin— including Karl.

The little elephants ranged in age from one year to two and a half years old. Maya was the youngest and smallest of the three, and she was usually found squeezed between the other two. But although she was shy, she was willing to try everything the older ones did. Haribelash (Hari), the male, and Lakshmi (Lucki) tried new foods and new experiences first, and Maya would follow.

During their first year at the Zoo, the precious pachyderms grew and thrived. Along with much-needed weight, they gained a mother figure in the form of Empress, one of the Zoo’s first elephants, who especially doted on little Maya. They also gained the loving care of their keepers, starting with Pete March, who took the elephant trio on walks around the grounds and made sure they had playtime, new places to investigate, mud to roll in, and a swim each morning in their pool.

Hari, Lucki, and Maya were good-natured, gregarious elephants that excelled in the husbandry training routines taught by trainers Jimmie O’Connor and Sparky Lafferty. As they grew older, the elephants did presentations for Zoo visitors, and it was here that the elephants found their greatest fans—children—who came to see them again and again. In the 1980s, Lucki and Maya were still inseparable friends, and Lucki relished in her role as matriarch of the Zoo’s elephant herd.

Do you remember seeing this animal at the San Diego Zoo?
Share your favorite stories and memorabilia here!

Images of San Diego Zoo Centennial commemorative pins. ShopZoo: Your one-stop shop for Centennial commemoratives, gear, and more!