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Part of the NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit’s strategy to uplift the lives of wild animals held captive is to conduct inspections of captive animal facilities around the country to ensure that welfare standards are maintained and that the best interests of animals are served. Recommendations for improvements in respect of environmental/behaviour enrichment, enclosure design and improving diets are constantly made to benefit those wild animals, which find themselves behind bars. Visible improvements at facilities where NSPCA recommendations have been implemented have been noted.
The NSPCA also takes proactive steps to promote the surrender of releasable animals to rehabilitation centres in preparation for their return to the wild. In this regard, it is encouraging to note that the release of a number of animals including vervet monkeys, meerkats, porcupine, jackal and birds have been secured by the NSPCA.
And then came Thandora…
The steady degeneration of facilities at the Bloemfontein Zoo and related increasing animal welfare concerns led to the NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit meeting with the Bloemfontein Mayor in the latter part of 2012 in an attempt to find a way forward. These issues are being addressed on an ongoing basis and systems set in place to improve living conditions at the zoo.
Extensive negotiations by the NSPCA, the Bloemfontein Zoo and the City Manager with the Greater Mangaung Municipality also resulted in the Bloemfontein Zoo being the first zoo in Africa to make the ground-breaking decision to relocate Thandora, the zoo’s lone female elephant, to the Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay for introduction into a free-roaming herd.
Thandora had been in captivity in the Bloemfontein Zoo for 24 years, four of which were spent alone after her companion had to be relocated due to extreme aggression. The Mangaung Municipality agreed that the environment in which Thandora was being kept was not appropriate for her species, did not have sufficient space and did not allow Thandora to express normal behaviour – all issues which resulted in behavioural stress. It was also deemed unethical and not in the best of interest of this elephant to keep her in isolation without interaction with others of her kind.
An operation of this scale was not an easy undertaking but the NSPCA received phenomenal encouragement from our national and international supporters and a combined effort resulted in Thandora’s safe arrival at the game reserve in March 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 condition 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.
News on This Issue
The general standard in which wild animals are kept in captivity in South Africa remains poor, and the NSPCA continues to engage with government departments to tighten the laws regarding keeping wild animals in captivity.