Tag Archives: zoos

Turning our backs

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.

From the Zimbabwe wild to Chinese zoos

Last year, Zimbabwe sold 24 baby elephants to China for zoos and circuses in the name of ‘wildlife conservation’. This year, Zimbabwe intends on selling more. The live export trade means that elephant calves will be separated from their mothers and sent to China in cargo holds by air.

China’s extremely sketchy history of animal welfare practice offers no reassurance for the care of the African elephants that will end up on the other side. One needs only visit a Chinese zoo to understand the dire state of these institutions, and the unnecessary despair and suffering that these captive animals endure for a lifetime.

Moreover, the practice of sending creatures to other countries to conserve wildlife is questionable. It is, in essence, a revenue raising strategy executed at the expense of families being torn apart, a lifetime of stress for the elephants, and much else besides. Elephants also live to about 70 years in the wild. In captivity, 40 years.

At the end of the day, if we are to remove the politics and debate of strategic effectiveness from the equation- baby elephants need their mothers. And elephants belong in the wild. They are not a commodity, and no one should have the right to deem them as ‘saleable’ for a purpose that humans artificially designate to these beautiful creatures.