Havana, we have a problem – wild animals belong in the wild!

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Cuba, I think music, revolution, passion, and of time stood still.  I have never thought lions, elephants, rhinos, or of springbok pronking around the Cuban plains. 

That’s Africa man!

I was thus rather perplexed to read an article confirming a deal between Namibia and Cuba, which would see the latter receiving a gift of 148 wild animals, including elephants, lions, various antelope species, cheetahs, rhinos, and many more, to stock a wildlife park in Cuba. 

I was even more perplexed in reading what a Cuban Government representative had to say when he stated that the donation is important for his country because it will increase Cuba’s wildlife population and improve the genetic pool of its animals.

So, it didn’t take too long to transition from a state of perplexed to one of shock – bring on the sugar water!

There are many reasons why this is disturbing but I’ll dwell on only three.

Firstly, wild animals belong in the wild. 

There has been a trend over the past few decades for certain African governments to “donate” wildlife to countries in both the East and the West.  These are not donations in and of themselves but rather, they are in furtherance of political agendas.  However, wild animals are not political pawns.  They are also not gifts and should not be treated as such – this is not the same as receiving a puppy for your birthday.

Secondly, how on earth can this be seen as assisting in increasing Cuba’s wildlife population – these animals are African and thus not native to Cuba – it’s been some time since the continents parted.  From a conservation perspective, this act serves as nothing more than removing animals from their wild, natural environments and placing them in unnatural confinement (to whatever degree – the details really don’t matter).  In other words, there is really no conservation value.

Thirdly, there are serious animal welfare implications here. 

Removing any animal from its wild environment presents, not only an ethical dilemma, but enormous animal welfare challenges too. Take elephants for example. There is the ethical dilemma of removing the animals from the wild.  But, there is another, very serious problem. 

Elephants have very complex social structures, known to function well beyond that of only the family group unit. Thus, even if an entire family group were to be removed from the wild, there would be negative consequences for those left behind.  And then, moving the animals to a totally foreign environment is just simply unacceptable.    

I must say, I am getting really tired of these politically motivated deals taking place, which fly in the face of animal welfare, conservation and, not to mention, reason.  But, sadly, as long as wild animals are seen as commodities beyond their intrinsic value, we will continue to fight this fight.  Something has to change.

-- JBL

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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