Pretoria, Are You Listening? Elephants Belong in the Wild!
Besides the obvious public safety concerns, the industry is thus fraught with numerous animal welfare concerns, which seem to fall on deaf ears when brought to the attention of the conservation officials.
What is it going to take for conservation authorities in South Africa to take a stand against the irresponsible practice of keeping elephants in captivity for “captive tourism” purposes? On Saturday, an elephant handler at the Knysna Elephant Park was mauled by an adult bull elephant. This is not the first time this elephant has been involved in such an attack, previously killing another elephant handler. Luckily, Mr. Melikhaya Ndzwanana survived the ordeal but he is in a critical state in a private hospital in Knysna and has had to have one of his legs amputated.
The business of keeping elephants in captive environments for “tourism” purposes had become increasingly popular in South Africa and before conservation authorities had a chance to mutter “um”, a number of venues around the country were offering elephant-back ride and/or elephant-walk safari experiences.
And then, to make matters worse, some NGO’s, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, created a right fuss around the practice of removing juvenile elephants from wild family groups to supply demand for the growing industry, a practice deemed totally unethical by most people who know a thing or two about elephants and their complex social structures.
Pretoria, we have a problem.
Well, the good news is that the aforementioned practice of removing elephants from the wild for lives in captivity was banned through the promulgation of the National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa.
This was an extremely positive development in that it put a brake on the proliferation of the industry. However, a number of elephants remain in various captive facilities around the country and, while some of us had hoped that the industry would be phased out over time, there is no law banning the breeding of elephants in these facilities.
To make matters worse, there are no appropriate laws governing the keeping and “taming” of elephants in captive environments in South Africa. Besides the obvious public safety concerns, the industry is thus fraught with numerous animal welfare concerns, which seem to fall on deaf ears when brought to the attention of the conservation officials.
In fact, because the industry has no conservation value, conservation officials have tried to palm it off to other departments claiming they have no role to play where animal welfare standards are concerned.
At the end of the day, however, someone in power needs to take ownership and work to responsibly phase out these dangerous and unethical practices, unless we want to be known as a country that has little respect for public safety in tourism and no regard for animal welfare.
Elephants belong in the wild, not in captivity.
For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save elephants around the world visit http://www.ifaw.org