Despite worldwide opposition, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has approved permits to import 18 wild elephants from Swaziland to three US zoos.
Conservationists, scientists and public opinion is overwhelmingly against the importation of the elephants, with 83 percent of the almost 8 000 comments sent to USFWS opposing the import, and only 14 percent in favour of the move.
A statement signed by over 70 ecologists, elephant and animal welfare experts’ highlighted concerns over the elephants’ welfare and emphasised the fact that alternative locations in Swaziland had not been considered.
The zoos applied for the permit to import the elephants from Swaziland’s Big Game Park’s (BGP) managed game reserves, Hlane and Makaya, claiming that due to overpopulation and the severe drought that Southern Africa is now facing, the survival of the elephants and their environment is threatened.
According to BGP the elephants have nowhere else to go and would have to be killed if the zoos did not home them, a claim disputed by conservationists who argue that there is space in three other Swazi parks.The import has also been motivated by a claim to make more room for the endangered black rhino in the area.
“Of course the zoos need elephants to generate income through more visitors, as they have clearly admitted. This is an issue about money and not about the elephants and one wonders why they asked for public comment in the first place?” says Marion Garai of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, which also issued a statement detailing the welfare concerns of removing elephants from the wild.
But welfare and animal rights groups are threatening to take legal action to block or delay the relocation – Animal Rights Groups Oppose Importing 18 African Elephants to US.
“We’re going to attempt to mobilise a strong media campaign in the US and elsewhere, to highlight to the public the travesty that is taking place with the incarceration of these elephants in US zoos, and that this is not sound conservation and tremendously cruel,” says Jonathan Tager, CEO of Group Elephant.