Zoos’ Covert Action Ends Hopes of a Wild Life for Swazi Elephants

Shocking news: Despite widespread international concern, the condemnation of numerous world-class elephant conservation and welfare experts, and a pending lawsuit, three US Zoos have swooped on 18 ‘surplus’ wild elephants from the Kingdom of Swaziland.

The following is the response from my colleagues on the Born Free team.

“It has emerged that 18 formerly wild elephants from Swaziland, 15 of whom are under the age of 12, are on the move to the U.S., destined for zoos in Wichita, Dallas, and Omaha.

The three zoos first announced their plan in October 2015, to widespread condemnation from the animal protection community. Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA joined many groups in outlining their concerns in significant detail to the authorities and opposing the import.

The zoos obtained a permit to import the elephants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in January. Shortly thereafter, our colleagues at Friends of Animals in the U.S. filed a lawsuit aiming to demonstrate that the USFWS had a mandatory duty to “fully evaluate and disclose whether the elephants, as a result of captivity, would suffer social, psychological, behavioural and physical impacts for the rest of their lives.”

Despite a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for next week, an anonymous source apparently contacted a representative for Friends of Animals on Tuesday evening to alert the person to a plane that had landed in Swaziland, and to the fact that the elephants would be loaded within 24 hours.

As a result, Friends of Animals secured enough information to support a temporary request for an emergency restraining order, which was granted by the court. Unfortunately, in what was reported by the group to be an “underhanded move,” the zoos had already moved to anesthetize, crate, and transfer the elephants. This led to the courts dissolving the restraining order on the grounds that the zoos claimed that moving the elephants back to the reserve would subject the elephants “to a lot of unnecessary risk.”

Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA are convinced that the export of elephants to these zoos has less to do with elephant overpopulation, drought in Swaziland, or rhinoceros conservation, as has been claimed, and much more to do with the U.S. zoo industry attempting to shore up the decline in its captive elephant population. The kill proposed by Swaziland is an unacceptable solution, but sale for a lifetime in captivity is a close second when there are wild areas within the species’ natural range to which these individual animals could be relocated.

Meanwhile, the population of African elephants in zoos is declining as an inevitable consequence of the problems inherent with keeping these animals in captivity. Research has shown that infanticide, herpes, tuberculosis, lameness, obesity, infertility, and behavioural problems are prevalent in zoo elephants, and survivorship is severely compromised when compared to wild elephants.

Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation, said:

“We are appalled with the decision by USFWS to allow these wild animals to be removed from their natural habitat and by the actions of the zoos involved. This is the second time in more than a decade that Swaziland’s Big Game Parks has looked to captivity as a supposed solution for apparent mismanagement of its national parks. Exporting wild elephants to zoos in America is absurd, unethical, and ineffective. It is shameful that the three U.S. zoos would exploit the unethical wildlife management practices in Swaziland for their own gain, and that the U.S. government will allow this to happen. We will maintain vigilant attention to the issue of live international trade in elephants for captivity and work with government authorities and CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] to restrict or eliminate future shipments.”

It is shameful and I am disgusted.

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