In March 2016, it became known that the Zoo Dallas, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska imported 17 elephants between 6 and 25 years of age (of which 15 are under 12 years) from a game reserve in Swaziland, despite world-wide protest from animal welfare people and well known elephant scientists. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160309-swaziland-zoos-african-elephants-transfer/
Although the date for the court hearing was scheduled for mid-March, at which the highly contested decision for the importation was to be reviewed, an aeroplane was secretly sent from Kansas City on March 5 to retrieve the elephants. The 17 elephants – one female had apparently died in December in the holding pens- were sedated and put into crates. The US court and the judge (who was in Namibia at the time) were confronted with the comment that unloading the elephants, and repeated sedation following the court ruling, would be life-threatening for the elephants. The judge and officials had no option but to allow the elephants to fly to the USA, so as not to compromise their health any further.
The EEG and especially the scientific Board, view the entire operation critically for several reasons:
- The court hearing should have been awaited in any case
- No whole family units were exported, so that the social bonds that had already been severed by splitting the original group were further disrupted among the export animals, and also left the 21 remaining elephants in Swaziland socially disrupted. The traumatic and possibly life-long consequences of such actions for elephants are known and, regarding the welfare of the animals, are to be condemned
- The pressure on the habitat in the country of origin will not in any way, either short-term or long-term, be alleviated by such a small population reduction. Already in 2003 three US zoos imported 11 elephants from Swaziland apparently due to overpopulation. That only 12 years later a further exportation occurred shows that the Big Game Parks management failed to implement any population control methods such as immunocontraception.
- The elephant management strategy in the reserves of Swaziland is highly questionable. The elephants are kept in small enclosures that are less than a quarter the size of the actual reserve. Elephants are part of the African savannah and given sufficient space do not deplete their habitat. It appears the Swaziland problems are based on the fact that they do not keep a natural elephant population, but for some unknown reason only allows them a tiny fraction of the available reserve. In larger areas elephant populations regulate themselves
- By this import and corresponding misinformation (“Room for Rhinos”) the US zoos are supporting the elephant-hostile management strategy of Big Game Parks and are dispersing among the public the biologically incorrect picture of overpopulation. It is a farce that the elephants had to leave Swaziland to make room for rhinos, as the elephant were kept in a separate small enclosure.
- Claims that the elephants would have had to be culled are incorrect. A reserve (and funding) had been found to keep the 18 elephants together, and the King of Swaziland had agreed to offer.
- There is no way that the importation of 17 elephants be sufficient to stabilise the American zoo population, particularly as a recent study has shown that only one third of imported wild elephants reproduce at all in captivity. As the reason for the predictable collapse of the SSP population lies in the mismanagement and in inadequate cooperation between zoos, further import of wild elephants is irresponsible: Despite having a propitious initial breeding population, far too few successful births have been achieved through inappropriate choices of priorities - failure to build appropriate facilities and instead, increased efforts for artificial insemination.
- Apart from the unacceptable effects on the imported animals it is a dubious development if zoos nowadays still try to compensate past omissions with import of wild elephants. As the issues –incorrect management strategies and absent cooperation between zoos - will still persist, we consider it unjustifiable to fall back on wild caught elephants.
In the EEG Magazine 27/2015 we deal in detail with population management of African elephants in the EEP sphere.
The population development in the EEP is also cause for concern. Therefore a similar intention for European zoos is not to be discounted, despite the fact that all scientific sources speak against new imports from the wild.
More information can be found in our contribution regarding the discussion of future importation of African elephants to Europe in the EEG Magazine 27/2015 on page 66.