Elephant abuse in South Africa – do the authorities actually care?

Abused and tormented. Cruelty charges have been laid in South Africa after pictures of elephant calves being “trained” for the safari industry came to light. Picture courtesy National Council of SPCAs. Animal welfare supporters around the world are in uproar over the appalling abuse of elephant calves at a so-called “rehabilitation” centre in South Africa.

The National Council of SPCAs this week laid cruelty charges against the Knysna Elephant Park (KEP) in Western Cape Province, the Elephants of Eden rehab centre and others, after pictures came to light showing elephants aged between two and seven years old being cruelly tormented to “train” them for lives in the elephant tourism industry.

Meanwhile CapeNature, the custodians of wildlife in the Western Cape Province, has allowed four elephant calves at the heart of a separate court case involving the KEP, to be moved across provincial borders from the rehab centre to the KEP.

These four elephants were forcibly taken from wild herds – in flagrant disregard of South Africa’s strict guidelines for the management of elephants – moved to the rehab centre, and now have ended up at the KEP. The NSPCA has brought action against two Provinces, the centre, Knysna Elephant Park and owners.

And, in a new twist, Meerendal Wine Estate on the outskirts of Cape Town suburbia is asking CapeNature to allow them to bring three elephants onto the farm, where they will be used for elephant back safaris and to crush grapes to produce a novelty range of wine.

Given the levels of abuse inherent in the taming and training of elephants, we have to ask CapeNature:

“Why are these permits even being considered when there are welfare concerns around captive elephants? The abuse of elephants to tame and train them for the safari tourism industry has been going on for years and is well known.”


It is not enough to state, as CapeNature does on their website, that it is “shocked and appalled” by the images of the abused elephants at a rehabilitation centre and supports the NSPCA in bringing to book the perpetrators of such cruelty.

It is not enough for CapeNature to say that because enclosures meet the requirements of the “Norms and Standards” (for the Management of Elephants in South Africa) that it is okay to allow elephants to be abducted from their natal herds to be turned into a tourism attraction.

In the case of Meerendal Wine Estate, they began building an elaborate stable for the elephants in November 2013. That is an enormous financial investment, and one that would suggest they have every confidence in being granted the permits they need to bring elephants to peri-urban Cape Town.

This week IFAW, together with the NSPCA, the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, and the Cape Animal Welfare Forum (representing over 30 animal welfare groups in the Western Cape Province) called on CapeNature to take heed of their mandate to conserve and protect wildlife.

If not, CapeNature will be seen as complicit the exploitation of elephants by the tourism industry.

Together we can make the abuse of elephants stop.


Join IFAW in telling CapeNature to stop enabling this cruelty to continue by emailing them on mengelbrecht@capenature.co.za and jlawrence@capenature.co.za

N.B. In a press release Meerdendal Wine Estate announced Saturday (25 May 2014) that they had withdrawn their application for elephants from CapeNature, saying their efforts to do so had been thwarted by a campaign in the press and on social media.

While we are naturally pleased by this turn of events, IFAW still believes that CapeNature should refuse each and every application that would seek to use elephants for tourism purposes. 

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