Baby Elephants Snatched from Wild Herds - Who’s Issuing the Permits?

archive photo © IFAW/a.dintino
Wednesday, 20 March, 2013
Cape Town, South Africa

Protection for elephants, or just an elaborate sham? That’s the question being asked after trucks transporting four young elephants were intercepted while transferring the calves to a “rehabilitation” centre last week.

According to a report by South Africa’s National Council of SPCA’s the elephants had been removed from their wild herds, because their mothers were to be shot at one of South Africa’s most infamous hunting ranches in North West Province.

“Do conservation officials actually know what their responsibilities to elephants are, and do they even care?” says Jason Bell, Director for the IFAW Elephant Programme (International Fund for Animal Welfare –

“Someone issued permits for these calves to be removed and transported – entirely contrary to the Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa which says wild elephant calves may not be removed from their herds as a result of their mothers being identified for hunting.

“Further the Norms and Standards state that an elephant may only be translocated where it is part of a cow-calf group and the entire cow-calf group is translocated. We would suggest that is about time the South African officials referred back to the rule books,” Bell says.

The NSPCA reports the elephant calves were en route to a “rehabilitation” centre owned by the Knysna Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape Province, an establishment that offers elephant back safari activities, and where in 2005 one elephant handler was killed and, in 2011, a second badly injured by an elephant in their care.

Working on a tip-off the NSPCA alerted Department of Environmental Affairs which was able to intercept the lorry transporting the elephants.

“There is no reason to believe for a second that these four young elephants would not have ended up being trained and tamed for the elephant back safari industry,” says Bell. “In which case, this too would be contrary to legislation which seeks to ensure the ethical and humane management of elephants in South Africa.”

Training elephants for the safari industry is well known for the cruelty employed in breaking the spirit of an elephant to make it compliant to human interaction. Legislation states that the use of elephants for tourism should not occur “in an inappropriate, inhumane or unethical manner.”

According to the NSPCA the mothers were to be shot as trophies at Sandhurst Safaris, an infamous hunting ranch in the North West Province which offers Big Five hunting opportunities. Sandhurst Safaris website currently indicates the cost of hunting the Big Five to be price on application only, but its 2008 rates indicated a cost of US27,800.00 to shoot an elephant.

Bell said that IFAW was entirely opposed to the use of elephants for elephant back safari tourism, and that the way the calves had been seperated from their herds would have caused immense distress to the individuals and the herds as a whole – yet another contravention of the Norms and Standards.

“In this case it seems that North West Province conservation officials simply flouted the legislation either because it suited them to do so, or because they aren’t properly informed. Either way the conservation officials’ need to be reminded that there is legislation in place to protect elephants from cruelty and exploitation, and that it needs to be observed,” he said.  IFAW calls on the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs to look into this as a matter of urgency.


About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in distress all over the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW provides hands-on assistance to animals in need, works to prevent animal cruelty, and advocates protecting wildlife and their habitats. For more information, visit our website: Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The illegal ivory trade is decimating elephant populations. Read more on IFAW’s online magazine, Unveiling the Ivory Trade:  or download as an iPad app.

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