While pressure mounts against Swaziland’s Big Game Parks’ (BGP) intended export of 18 elephants to zoos in the U.S.A., US Government documents show that the elephants are fenced into small portions of the reserves in which to live, denying them access to much larger areas of land and causing land degradation
BGP says it has it either has to export about half its 39 elephants to zoos or cull them because they are destroying large tracts of vegetation and that this has a negative impact on rhino conservation projects but some conservationists, scientists and animal welfare groups are asking why fences are not taken down to allow the elephants more space, or alternatively, why plans were not made to move them to other reserves. They are also opposed to the export on ethical grounds.
An assessment published on 25 September 2015 by the Branch of Permits Division of Management Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that as of 2014 the 25 elephants in Hlane Royal National Park were confined to only 4900 hectares of Hlane’s 22 000 hectares and in Mkhaya Game Reserve (10 500 hectares) 14 elephants are restricted to 1190 hectares .
Three adult females, three sub-adult males, and 12 sub-adult females are earmarked for export
“They haven’t even attempted to find more land or take down some their fences which would give the elephants access to much larger areas” Dr Marion Garai, chair of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group in South Africa said this week.
“They (BGP) exported elephants to US zoos in 2003 because they claimed they had too many elephants and have allowed this to happen again. They are confined to areas that are clearly too small and BGP should also have used immuno-contraception years ago which would have curtailed population growth,”Dr Garai said. “To make matters worse they intend splitting the family groups between three zoos which will cause the animals’ life-long trauma.”
The animal advocacy group Friends of Animals in the U.S.A. said the planned export of elephants was unacceptable on ethical grounds but feared that practice would continue.
“As long as zoos in the U.S. pay money for these elephants and the U.S. Government condones it there is little incentive for the Kingdom of Swaziland and Big Game Parks (BGP)to seriously consider alternatives” Jennifer Branes of Friends of Animals said.
Jonathan Tager, CEO of groupelephant.com, a global company which supports not for profit work on rhinos and elephants said his organization is prepared to fund the relocation of the elephants to other reserves in Africa.
“We think we have found somewhere and are willing to help fund the feeding of the elephants while we complete the negotiations and thereafter will help fund the relocation if necessary,” Tager said on Wednesday. “If we need to we will consider buying the elephants. It is clear that this whole thing is not about conservation but about making money”.
Although Big Game Parks had not responded to requests from comment at the time of writing the website of Room for Rhinos, which represents all three zoos involved, states that the removal of the elephants is important for rhino conservation in Swaziland and at the same time provides the elephants with safe homes.
Last week an official of the Swaziland National Trust Commission, which oversees four other reserves in the country, told the South Africa organization Conservation Action Trust that “there is space and food for elephants in other reserve areas of Swaziland but we were never alerted of the export”.