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Taking Elephants Out Of The Room

Captive Elephants - Taking Elephants Out Of The Room

No new elephants should be placed in captivity and elephants currently in captivity should be rewilded, was the overwhelming conclusion of the Captive Elephant Indaba held in Hermanus last Friday.

conclusion follows the historic resolution to stop the trade in wild caught
elephants, taken at CITES CoP18 in Geneva the previous week. The Captive
Elephant Indaba was held to consider the plight of captive elephants and
provide policy recommendations for the future.

“Although we have seen a distinct improvement in the number
of captive elephants in South Africa, we still have 95 elephants in 22 captive
facilities”, says Brett Mitchell of Elephant Reintegration Trust. “The number
of facilities offering elephant back riding decreased by 80% over the last five
years, largely as a result of public pressure.”

Elephant back riding - Taking Elephants Out Of The Room
Elephant back riding on the Garden Route, South Africa

are highly intelligent and social creatures with large brains capable of
cognitive processing, self-awareness and mourning loss, and display a complex
and extensive repertoire of communication. They are large and long-lived
mammals reaching ages similar to us humans”, explains Dr Joyce Poole of Elephant

These are
traits unsuitable to captive conditions, where elephants are often confined to
“small and barren camps, offering little to no opportunity for exercise,
mobility behavioural challenges, or choices over where to go or with whom to
spend time. ”, adds Dr Keith Lindsay of Amboseli Elephant Research Project.

Elephant - Taking Elephants Out Of The Room

One of the
aims of the Indaba was to bring awareness to the plight of captive elephants
and the cruel methods of training used to break these animals into submission
to facilitate interaction. To achieve perpetual submissiveness , they are often
also put on the Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone, which reduces their testosterone
levels but has severe side including causing genital deformities.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is regularly identified in elephants,
especially those kept in captivity, stated Dr Gay Bradshaw from the Kerulos
Center for Nonviolence. “When subjected to genocide, imprisonment, cultural
destruction, enslavement, loss of homeland, torture, and war, or in the
language of elephant managers and conservationists, culls, translocation,
captivity training, human-elephant conflict, and crop protection, both humans
and elephants experience psychological and social breakdown. Elephant trauma
survivors can only begin to heal when elephant ways of life are reinstated.”

During the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES) CoP18 meeting in Geneva in August this year, a majority vote restricted
the live elephant trade. CITES now only allows the live trade of wild elephants
within their natural and historic range in Africa, except in exceptional or
emergency circumstances. “This means that wild baby elephants can no longer be ripped away
from their families and sold to zoos and captive facilities, which is a great
start”, states Audrey Delsink of HSI Africa.

“However, the
only truly “appropriate and acceptable” conditions for this iconic and keystone
species are in their natural habitat”, says Lindsay.

Baby elephant - Taking Elephants Out Of The Room
Baby elephant captured from the wild in Zimbabwe and held captive in Jinan Zoo in China (Photo credit: Ban Animal Trading South Africa).

“Hearing first-hand from Drs Poole and Bradshaw about
the severe trauma that captive elephants endure, and having seen the extreme
stress of Lammie and the two newcomers in Joburg Zoo, it is critical to get
these elephants into a sanctuary”, says Delsink. “I hope that City Parks and Johannesburg
City Council watch the proceedings – they can no longer deny that zoos are no
place for elephants and have the opportunity to do the right thing here.”

Elephant 1 1024x768 - Taking Elephants Out Of The Room
Lammie standing forlorn in her enclosure in Joburg Zoo with the two new elephants in the background (Photo Credit: Audrey Delsink, HSI Africa).

The event organiser, Michele Pickover of the EMS Foundation, expressed her disappointment that government representatives from South Africa’s national and provincial government declined their invitation to participate. “This is disappointing, but not unexpected given the dismissive position our environmental agencies take towards ethical and welfare concerns for the wild animals they have oversight and responsibility for.”

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