Six days ago, 17 wild elephants were flown out of Swaziland to the U.S. to be placed in zoos for exhibit and breeding purposes, despite last-ditch legal attempts to prevent the transfer. Swaziland, a landlocked country, is currently experiencing severe drought and creating the usual food insecurity and malnutrition issues for humans and wildlife. The rationale for the move was that the elephants would be ‘saved’, as they were due to be culled to reduce competition for food and water for the rhinos who share the same space. Whether this claim is true can never be proven. However is this the solution? Was there an alternative? The move means significant health risks caused by long sedation, high stress of long-haul transport, artificial environments and separation from families, and no freedom to roam the miles that they usually do. It has been well documented that elephants in captivity have the tendency to exhibit abnormal behaviour, including depressive behaviour, become dissociative and sometimes aggressive. Infant elephants die in zoos approximately three times as much as in the wild. And it’s well known that elephants have killed their zookeepers due to frustration from a life of confinement. Swaziland is not known to have the most transparent of governments, and the 6-figure funds from this transaction will go back to the state. And while the majority of the population is suffering from poverty, the King of the land has purchased a new jet. Wild creatures belong in the wild.
Let’s not turn our backs on them. May these beautiful elephants have the best lives that they can inside 4 walls.