The NSPCA’s Statement of Policy on Elephant Exploitation

The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) is opposed to any degree of confinement or the use of any animal in sport, entertainment or exhibition likely to cause distress or suffering or which may adversely affect the animal’s welfare. The NSPCA is totally opposed to exhibitions or presentations of wild animals in circuses and travelling menageries.

Working to Protect Elephants

Good news for elephants is that they have a true and loyal friend in the NSPCA, which has a history of fighting fiercely for their welfare and speaking out in their defence.

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Reference: Elephants

Cruel and Abusive Training Methods (2014)

The NSPCA has laid animal cruelty charges against Elephants of Eden, the Knysna Elephant Park, their directors and management in terms of the Animals Protection Act, 71 of 1962 for cruelty to elephants. This proved necessary after the NSPCA received horrific footage depicting the cruel and abusive training methods employed to control and train baby and young elephants for their future, captive lives in the elephant-based tourist industry.

The elephants showed signs of crippling injuries with severely swollen legs and feet, debilitating abscesses and wounds resulting from the abusive use of ropes, chains and bull hooks. The calculated and premeditated cruelty took place at Elephants of Eden.

In a dramatic turn of events in September 2015 the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Grahamstown decided to withdraw the charges and not to institute any prosecution against any party or person. The DPP claimed that the training methods employed did not constitute cruel treatment or caused unnecessary suffering to the elephants.

The NSPCA requested further intervention from the National Prosecuting Authority to reconsider the withdrawal of the charges against the accused by the DPP. The final decision from the NPA is still awaited.

National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa (2014)

At a stakeholder meeting called by the Department of Environmental Affairs to discuss proposed amendments to the National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa, it became apparent that the Department appeared to be intending to remove all welfare-based provisions relating to elephants.

The Department states that it is experiencing difficulties enforcing and implementing the Elephant Norms and Standards and is essentially proposing that instead of addressing its shortcomings in enforcement and implementation, it will simply remove the pieces of the law that are being broken. No other concrete motivations have been provided.

Our concerns and strong objections have been formally addressed, in writing, to the Minister of Environmental Affairs.

We also await publication of the Minimum Standards for Captive Elephants, which are long overdue. Responsibility for these standards were transferred from the Department of Environmental Affairs to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 2012.

Forced Removal of Elephants from the Wild

Elephants are regarded as intelligent and highly social animals that need large tracts of land to display natural behaviours essential for the wellbeing of the species. The forced removal of individual elephants from a herd is considered inhumane and cruel. Elephants are social animals and form lifelong bonds. The reason why only entire herds should be managed rather than individual elephants is based on the welfare of the elephants at hand.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who has been intimately involved with elephants for over 50 years, has stated : “The impact on social dynamics within herds who have been subjected to violent abductions of their young is emotionally profound. Natural mortality when the herd can grieve for a lost loved one is acceptable, as it would be in human society, but the emotional damage inflicted on all members of the herd when a calf is forcibly and cruelly abducted, is something else.

Training and Taming of Elephants

In simple terms due to the intelligence and nature of elephants, training or taming must be re-enforced through domination on a continual basis. In nature, elephants evaluate their dominance by size. In order to dominate or force one’s will onto an elephant that is between one and five tons in weight and a few metres in height (bearing in mind a human is around 90kg and six foot in height), some degree of force needs to be applied. This is a recipe for abuse.

“No matter how much training is done you will never have a “domesticated” elephant. In biological terms, domestication takes many generations of selected breeding. This has never been done with elephants and thus ‘domestication’ is a misnomer.”

Cynthia Moss DSc, Joyce Pool PhD, Prof Phyllis Lee, Keith Lindsay PhD, Harvey Croze PhD, Petter Granli 2007.

The NSPCA is appalled by the trade of elephants into captivity and remains vigilant to what is happening at ground level. NSCPA Inspectors continue to monitor the wellbeing of those elephants already in captivity, whether in elephant-back safari operations, zoos or circuses. These animals may well be lost to conservation but their humane treatment in long-term captivity remains a priority as does secure their release back into the wild.

Abuse of Circus Elephants (2013)

The NSPCA received a video from a member of public showing the Brian Boswell circus elephants being beaten by circus staff members whilst on location in Port Elizabeth. The footage also showed the elephants being chained for varying periods of time whilst not performing.

Charges of animal cruelty were laid against the circus owners and the handlers caught on video footage beating the two elephants. The charges relate to the beating of the elephants and the chaining of the elephants. A senior prosecutor has been assigned to investigate the case and unfortunately a court date has not yet been set.

When the case broke, the four handlers were dismissed by the circus and subsequently disappeared. Despite all efforts from the investigating officer, the circus owners and directors could not provide names or identity numbers for any of their former employees. In January 2016 two circus owners and the head elephant trainer made their first court appearance. Following numerous postponements, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Grahamstown withdrew the charges against the three accused in court, stating that there is a lack of evidence of these owners knowing permitted these conducts or failing to prevent such conduct by the individuals involved in the ill-treatment of the elephants.

The decision of the DPP will once again be questioned by the NSPCA.

Thandora – Bloemfontein Zoo Elephant (2013)

The 5th of March 2013 was no ordinary day for Thandora who had spent 24 years in captivity.

For most animals in captivity, the chances of them being returned to the wild are slim to none. However, extensive negotiations by the NSPCA, the Bloemfontein Zoo Manager and the City Manager with the Greater Mangaung Municipality resulted in the Bloemfontein Zoo being the first zoo in Africa to make the ground-breaking decision to relocate their lone female elephant, Thandora, to the Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay for introduction into a free-roaming elephant herd. An operation of this scale was not an easy undertaking but the NSPCA received phenomenal encouragement from their national and international supporters and a combined effort resulted in her safe arrival at the game reserve in March of 2013.

The gentle giant then started a rehabilitation programme designed to prepare her for her new life in the wild and in April she took her first steps into true freedom.

After such a successful reintroduction to the wild, it was a stroke of complete misfortune that ended her heroic journey. Sadly, Thandora passed away as a result of a bacterial infection unrelated to any aspect of her release but she died as a free, wild roaming elephant and proved to the world that a captive elephant can transition back into the wild.

North West Province Elephants (2013)

An anonymous tip-off to the NSPCA sparked a major investigation into the orphaning and removal of four elephant calves in a cull that took place under dubious circumstances on a private game farm in the North West Province. The elephant calves were then transported via road to a facility in the Eastern Cape Province owned by a well-known elephant back safari operator.

The removal of elephants from the wild for purposes of captivity is a direct contravention of the National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa; regulations that the NSPCA fought tremendously hard to have implemented after the capture and cruel treatment of the Tuli elephant calves many years ago. The NSPCA has once again highlighted that it is one thing to have laws prohibiting the exploitation of our animals and another to confront the situation on the ground, entangled in a web of other issues.

The NSPCA expressed outrage at the removal of these elephants from the wild to be placed in captivity solely for entertainment purposes and is once again committed to ensuring that these juvenile elephants are returned to the wild.

The NSPCA is pursuing legal action against the authorities involved in blatant contravention of the National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa that lead to the orphaning and translocation of four elephant calves by road to a captive facility in the Eastern Cape. Legal papers were served on all parties.

The facility of Elephants of Eden in the Eastern Cape has since closed and all elephants were subsequently moved to the sister facility at Knysna Elephant Park in the Western Cape. The case was due in court mid May 2016.

Sondelani Elephants (2009)

Nine elephants were rescued by the Zimbabwe SPCA (ZNSPCA) from a ranch in Zimbabwe in April 2009 where they were being trained for use in the elephant-back safari industry. The elephants were subsequently released into the Hwange National Park on 3 November 2009 through the efforts of the Zimbabwe SPCA, Four Paws and other parties. NSPCA (South Africa) Executive Director, Marcelle Meredith, travelled to Zimbabwe at the request of Four Paws following concerns raised regarding the rescue operation. Disagreements regarding the ownership of the four of the elephants arose and the release of all nine of the elephants hung in the balance. From a welfare perspective it was crucial that all of the elephants be released and that none remained in the hands of the tourism industry. Discussions with the parties ensued and together with Four Paws, the NSPCA (South Africa) played an important role in the negotiations which eventually resulted in the freedom of all of the nine elephants. Four Paws, the Zimbabwe SPCA and the NSPCA (South Africa) incurred significant costs in securing the release of the elephants, providing rehabilitation care and overseeing their general wellbeing during their period of captivity.

National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa (2007)

The NSPCA provided extensive welfare input into the National Norms and Standards by attending various workshops convened by the Department of Environmental Affairs and by way of the submission of written comment.

Selati Elephants (2006)

Six young elephants were captured from the wild in the Selati Game Reserve in the Limpopo province on 17 April 2006 and were taken by road to Elephants For Africa Forever (EFAF) near Tzaneen to be trained for elephant-back safaris for the tourism industry. The NSPCA Wildlife Unit monitored the capture of the juveniles to ensure the welfare of the animals was not compromised and was heavily criticised for “rubber-stamping” or condoning the practice of forced removal from natal herds. The NSPCA stated its position in a media statement, dated 26 April 2006, expressing that the NSPCA believes that the capture of wild elephants, taming them for lifelong captivity is unethical and cruel.

The capture of the elephants had been sanctioned by the Limpopo Province with the issuing of permits and since the legal requirements had been adhered to, the NSPCA accepted with reluctance that the capture was inevitable and maintained the position to act on behalf of the animals, be present on the scene and observe every detail to ensure the humane treatment of the elephants. Being present did not imply that the NSPCA condoned the activity and vehemently denied the accusations of “rubber-stamping”.

Mabilingwe/Kwantu Elephants (2005)

Six young elephants were removed from their family groups in the Mabilingwe Nature Reserve in the Limpopo Province. On 24 October 2005 the NSPCA was tipped off about the transportation by road of these animals. Upon stopping the truck and investigation it was established that these young elephants were being transported to the Eastern Cape. On 25 October 2005 the NSPCA stated its objections in writing to the Limpopo Nature Conservation officials regarding the forced removal of juvenile wild elephants from the Mabilingwe Nature Reserve and exported to Eastern Cape for domestication purposes. We also questioned the issuing of capture permits during one of the hottest months of the year. In a letter dated 23 November 2005, the Senior General Manager, Environment and Tourism, Limpopo Province advised us that the province envisaged that only adult or a family group would be captured in line with an acceptable understanding of elephant biology and that capture and translocation permits being issued because of the drought being experienced.

On 13 December 2005 in a letter to the Limpopo authorities, the NSPCA recorded its concern that the forced removal of juvenile elephants did occur and asked the question as to how this had happened in the first place. The response from the Limpopo authorities stated that it was the aim of the Department to stipulate special conditions in terms of Section 98(3)(c) of the Limpopo Environmental Management Act 2003, Act 6 of 2003 on permits to inter alia capture elephants. The Department would furthermore ensure that an Environmental Compliance Officer attend such capture operations in order to verify compliance to the requirements and conditions of such permits.

Despite the vigorous efforts of the NSPCA, which included opposition to the issuing of a licence in terms of the Performing Animals Protection Act No. 24 of 1935, the six young elephants went into captivity for elephant-back safari purposes.

The Elephant in Ellisras (2004)

In April 2004 an elephant was confiscated in a joint operation between the Limpopo Nature Conservation Department and the NSPCA and moved to a large camp in a provincial reserve. The NSPCA arranged and funded the confiscation on behalf of the Nature Conservation authorities. The subsequent court case resulted in the elephant being forfeited to the State. The elephant was released back into the wild in Atherstone and has joined a heard of approximately 40 elephants.

Tuli Elephants

Tuli Elephants (1998)

30 young elephants caught the attention of the world in 1998. And they came under the spotlight because the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) recognised the tragedy that had taken place and was prepared to take action to stop the cruelty inflicted on these wild-caught babies that were placed in chains and cruelly beaten. Captured and removed from the Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana, the Tuli elephants, as they became known, were taken to African Game Services in the North West Province. The physical and mental abuse of these animals became a paramount issue for the NSPCA and in the years that followed, vigorous legal efforts resulted in the conviction of Riccardo Ghiazza and Wayne Stockigt under the Animals Protection Act No. 71 of 1962.

Pilanesberg Elephants (2005)

In September 2005 the Pilanesberg National Park in the North West Province was hard hit by a devastating fire. Amongst the casualties were 17 elephants that suffered severe burns. The NSPCA was not called in when the tragedy first struck and entered the process some time into the rescue operation on 5 October 2005 when two Unit staff members were committed on a full-time basis to ensure the welfare of the elephants was not compromised. Staff members spent a total of 72 days at the holding bomas at Hammanskraal and the Pilanesberg National Park, working long hours monitoring and nursing the burnt and traumatised elephants. We believe that we acted in the best interests of these elephants in negotiating their return to the Pilanesberg National Park as opposed to them going to elephant back safaris, and recommending euthanasia when this was necessary. Regrettably only two of the elephants survived and were successfully released into the main park area of the Pilanesberg National Park on 5 December 2005.