Elephant Tragedy an Accident Waiting to Happen

Wednesday, 22 June, 2005
Cape Town, South Africa
Yesterday’s trampling to death of an elephant handler has raised alarm bells with regards to the safety of South Africa’s burgeoning elephant back safari and tourism industry.
On Tuesday, a bull elephant killed an elephant handler at the Knysna Elephant Park, between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape, reportedly while out on a morning excursion.

IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org)  and its partner organisation, the Ethical Conservation Network (ECN), have expressed dismay at the tragedy but warned that, as elephant tourism becomes more extensive, the chance of more people being injured and possibly killed by the giant pachyderms becomes more likely.

“This is the first time someone has been killed by a so-called tame, trained elephant in South Africa, but elephants in the tourism industry are known to have injured several guests and handlers in recent years,” said Jason Bell-Leask, IFAW’s Director Southern Africa.

IFAW and ECN recently launched their Born to be Wild! Campaign to oppose the removal of elephants from the wild for commercial purposes.

“Elephants are rapidly becoming conservation’s latest commodity with increasing numbers of animals being taken from the wild for lives in captivity, including the elephant back safari and tourism industry,” said Bell-Leask.

“Training methods are entirely unregulated and therefore open to widespread abuse. No laws exist in South Africa to govern methods used in training elephants for safari tourism; trainers and handlers themselves do not require any formal training or education, and, the industry is generating an increasing demand for elephants,” he said.

South Africa’s elephant back safari and tourism industry began with a single operator four years ago, and has since grown to include nine operators, with at least 72 elephants currently being used for this form of tourism in four of the country’s nine provinces.

Internationally, verified reports show, approximately one in 600 elephant handlers in the United States is killed each year and elephants kill more zoo personnel than all other species of animal kept in zoos and circuses combined. In Thailand it is estimated that about 200 mahouts (elephant trainers) are killed each year.

“IFAW is absolutely opposed to the use of elephants for elephant-back safari tourism or to be taken from the wild into any type of captive environment for commercial purposes, be that a zoo, safari park or circus.

“This tragic turn of events at the Knysna Elephant Park, which has left one man dead and his wife and three children without a husband and father, should sound a warning bell of the dangers of this kind of tourism. It needs to be stopped, and it needs to be stopped now,” said Bell-Leask.

About the Ethical Conservation Network (ECN)
“The Ethical Conservation Network” supports the responsible and respectful custodianship of wilderness as the basis for ensuring the survival and genetic health of wild animal populations for future generations. Thus, it supports the acquisition of protected habitat for wild animals.  “The Ethical Conservation Network opposes the willful exploitation of wilderness and the irresponsible, unethical, exploitative and inhumane treatment of wild animals for commercial gain.”

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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