Elephant Importation is Cruel and Unnecessary

By Kathy Guillermo

In the dead of night on August 23, seven elephants who came from a
90,000-plus acre reserve in Swaziland, Africa, were unloaded at their new 3 acre home at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in Calif. Four more elephants went on to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla.

These elephants should never have been taken from their homes. The
collaboration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which issued the permits allowing the importation, with these two zoos makes a mockery of real conservation programs. Zoos condemn social, intelligent elephants to an empty life of stress, boredom and loneliness. At least 90 African elephants, most captured from the wild, have died prematurely in North American facilities since 1990. Most fell far short of their 70-year life expectancy, not even reaching the age of 40.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, working with other animal
protection groups, showed that the removal of these elephants violates the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, gathered scathing condemnations of the plan from elephant experts worldwide and even challenged the zoos in court. Despite these facts, the elephants have lost their freedom and their families and are now prisoners on a foreign continent.

Wild Animal Park and Lowry zoo officials claimed that this was essential to save these animals from a dangerously overcrowded reserve, or the elephants would have had to be killed. Swaziland officials, who sold the elephants for more than a million dollars, earnestly backed them up, even stating that they were saving "freezer space" for the elephant corpses.

In fact, there are fewer than 40 elephants in all of Swaziland. They live and roam on two reserves that cover nearly 93,000 acres in the Hlane Royal National Park and the Mkhaya Game Reserve. There is no shortage of space and no need to shoot them. Nevertheless, PETA approached other enormous reserves in Africa and asked them if they could take the "surplus" elephants. Three of them agreed to take the elephants, keep them together where they could enjoy the same kind of life that they currently have and protect them from poachers and trophy hunters. PETA offered to pay for the relocation.

But zoo officials, intent upon their single-minded goal of bringing new young elephants into their exhibits, refused to acknowledge our offer.

Nor have they admitted that the adolescent elephants they plan to capture have already suffered through one wrenching separation. They were born at the Kruger National Park in South Africa. When they were still nursing babies, they watched their mothers gunned down in a bloody cull that was caught on film and horrified people the world over. The mothers and "aunties" in the herd, trumpeting in terror, tried desperately to surround the babies and protect them from the shooters. One by one they were felled, crashing to the ground while blood spattered their screaming babies. Even when the adults lay dead, the baby elephants would not leave. They cried and struggled against their captors, who had to drag them away from their mothers' sides.

Traumatized and beside themselves with fright, they were sent to Hlane in Swaziland, where it was many months before they looked upon their new home with anything but fear and grief.

Now, they have again been taken from their families and experienced the terror of capture and transport. And for what? So that they can be a tourist attraction in a park a fraction of the size of their natural home, with a "herd" a fraction of the size of their own adopted families. Until they, too, become too old and are shipped to another, smaller, colder zoo-just like the three elephants the Wild Animal Park sent to Chicago to make room for the new, younger tourist attractions.

Officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wild Animal Park and the Lowry Park Zoo have behaved like puppeteers who can control the lives of other beings for their own selfish and destructive purposes. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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