A CHILDHOOD passion for big animals had taken Jenna O’Grady Donley to the cusp of international recognition as a veterinary scientist.
Next week, Liz Donley was to have watched her only child graduate with first-class honours from the University of Sydney.
Instead, she and Jenna’s stepfather, Peter Donley, will accept the degree posthumously after their 25-year-old daughter was killed by a pygmy elephant while she was trekking with a friend in a remote wildlife park in Borneo.
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Big-cat lover … Jenna O’Grady Donley. Her ground-breaking thesis was on renal failure in captive big cats. Photo: Facebook (This photo indicates a lack of respect for the danger inherent in wild animals)
Ms O’Grady Donley was to have presented her groundbreaking thesis on renal failure in captive big cats at an international conference in Florida next year, advancing the knowledge of why many large cats die prematurely in zoos.
”That’s the thing that’s comforting us at the moment, knowing that she made such a contribution,” Mr Donley said.
Ms O’Grady Donley had travelled to Borneo with a friend, Ashley Kelly, to celebrate the end of seven years of study.
Two pygmy elephants. Photo: AP
They were walking with a local guide in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve on Thursday when a pygmy elephant charged. Pygmy elephants, which are endangered, grow to 2.5 metres. A tusk pierced Ms O’Grady Donley and she died instantly, the State Wildlife Department director, Laurentius Ambu, said.
Masidi Manjun, the Tourism Minister of Sabah state, said the Australians had insisted on seeing the elephant up close, in defiance of regulations.
”What I have been told is that the tourists were insisting on getting into the forest to see the elephant,” he told the Herald.
”When one of them started taking photos quickly, the elephant didn’t like it because of the flashlights in the dark forest. It’s important for tourists to know that wild animals are wild animals and there is always an element of risk.”
The tour guide who accompanied the pair was taken into custody and has been interviewed by police. Guides are not supposed to disturb wild animals when trekking in Sabah.
Mrs Donley said her daughter was not a risk taker. ”She understood the risks involved with working with large animals and was very respectful of them and their environment,” Mrs Donley said through tears, from her Gymea Bay home. ”She had a connection with animals. They didn’t feel threatened by her.”
Photographs on Ms O’Grady Donley’s Facebook page show her lying with lions, cheetahs and elephants in Africa and swimming with turtles.
”She was fascinated from a young age by big cats,” her mother said. ”Because she’s an artist as well, she used to like drawing tigers and reading books on them and watching every David Attenborough program. She just had a connection with animals.”
Ms O’Grady Donley had accepted a job at a practice in Warrnambool, Victoria, and was to relocate with her partner, Matthew Izzo, who also is a vet.
Rosanne Taylor, dean of the faculty of veterinary science at the University of Sydney, said the industry had lost a bright star.
”She was very much the face of Australian veterinarians of the future – smart, dedicated, hard working, driven by research, above all deeply committed and caring and engaged with her community.
”She was a person who was poised to make a great difference to her profession.”