Cape Town – A group of top South African scientists has slammed the proposed sale of 18 wild elephants from Swaziland to American zoos as being deeply unethical and certain to cause the animals’ long-term physical and psychological stress should the deal go ahead.
In a statement published this week South Africa’s Elephant Specialist Advisory Group (ESAG) says that the export of the elephants, three adult females and fifteen sub-adults to zoos, should not be allowed under any circumstances.
ESAG said that the capture, splitting of family groups and relocation of the animals in it itself causes trauma and keeping elephants zoos for the rest of their lives instigates both physical and mental damage amongst the animals.
ESAG offers an expert advisory service to elephant owners and managers in South Africa although its’ members have worked in many parts of Africa and elsewhere.
The ESAG statementis part of a number of submissions calling on the US Fish and Wildlife Service to refuse the zoos permission to import the elephants.
Swaziland’s Big Game Parks (BGP)which runs the Hlane Royal National Park and the Mkhaya Game Reserve, plans to sell the animals to three US zoos for $450 000 because they claim the animals have bred too successfully and are destroying vegetation in the parks.
BGP says the only alternative to the relocation is to kill the elephants, although those opposed to the sale say that no attempt has been made to find alternative land for the animals in Swaziland or in neighbouring countries.
The animals will be split into three groups, each comprising an adult female and five sub adults. It is not known if older females are being moved with their own offspring.
“However, splitting up of familiar bonds is known to be highly cruel and traumatic to elephants – in those that are sent as well as those that remain behind,” Dr Marion Garai, the chair of ESAG said in the statement. “Evidence has shown that the trauma remains embedded in the elephant brain for life”.
“It has been established that the welfare of elephants in captivity is compromised, as their social, physical and cognitive needs cannot be adequately met,”ESAG added.
Studies show that zoo elephants suffer from a wide range of captivity related diseases including tuberculosis, obesity, herpes and reproductive problems as well as foot and musculoskeletal disorders.
ESAG state on their website the human and elephant brains process emotion in similar ways and that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a reality in a society of individuals that have gone through severe trauma and whose natural social structure has totally been disrupted.