Controversial plans are progressing to export 18 elephants from Swaziland to US zoos, apparently without proper consideration of relocating them to other reserves in Swaziland.
“There is space and food for elephants in other reserve areas of Swaziland, but we were never alerted of the export,” says a reliable nature conservation source at the Swaziland National Trust Commission, a parastatal of the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs which oversees four of the country’s seven reserves.
The export plan which has been met by strong global opposition, with more than 70 elephant experts and organizations objecting in a joint statement, is the brainchild of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks organisation and the three zoos – Dallas Zoo; Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha and Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita – that are destined to receive six elephants each.
This group, known as Roomforrhinos, claim there is nowhere for the elephants to go in Swaziland or the rest of Africa due to loss of habitat, legislation restrictions and the high levels of poaching.
But according to the statement signed by ecologists, policy makers, elephant and animal welfare experts , there is no evidence that adequate effort has been put into finding an alternative location for the elephants in Africa.
Roomforrhinos claim that due to severe drought in Swaziland the 18 elephants, which are currently living in enclosures at two of the three reserves managed by Big Game Parks, will be culled if they are not exported and that the elephant’s removal will create more room for endangered rhinos.
Conservationists are querying the rationale to make space for rhinos, stating that since the elephants are living in enclosed areas separate from the rhino’s, their impact on vegetation is confined and therefore they cannot pose any significant threat to rhinos or other wildlife.
“Zoos have traditionally raided the wild to have wild animals for display,” says former US and Australian zoo director, David Hancocks. “The present proposal is dressed up as a ‘rescue’ but in truth is merely a ploy to cover the fact that zoos collectively are unable to maintain a sustainable breeding population of elephants.”
Extensive research by elephant ecologists and welfare specialists show that elephants do not thrive in captivity. As sentient animals reliant on family bonds, they often display behavioural abnormalities and suffer from disease or disability caused by captive environments. And with an infant mortality rate of 40% in captivity, no conservation value has been ascribed to captive elephant breeding programmes.
This is the second time that Big Game Parks has exported its elephants to zoos in the USA as a solution to overpopulation and conservationists are calling it wildlife mismanagement with a financial motive.
“Elephants are highly intelligent, sensitive and social individuals and nothing can justify tearing young elephants away from their mothers and social groups and incarcerating them for the rest of their lives,” says Dr Joyce Poole, world expert on elephant social behaviour and communication.
Adding to the international outcry at this proposal is an online campaign, urging the US Congress not to approve import permits and to “Keep African elephants in Africa”.