Tuli Elephants

“The Tuli elephants were exploited for profit”, “From the open savannah of Botswana to a barren concrete shed near Brits”, “From freedom to chains”, “From family to training”.

Take a historic journey through the pages of our magazine Animals In Focus, by clicking on the year below:


The Tuli Elephants Remembered

2019 was the 20th Anniversary of NSPCA Victory for the Tuli Elephants


  • 7 exported to zoos in Germany and Switzerland
  • 9 released from NSPCA custody and transferred to Sandhurst Safaris
  • 5 subsequently recaptured and taken to the facility of the Elephant Sanctuary
  • 14 purchased and released into Marakele National Park – permanent release into the wild.


July 1998 – 30 young elephants captured in Botswana’s Tuli game reserve, removed from their herds and taken to African Game Services near Brits which was owned by Riccardo Ghiazza and is situated in the North West Province of South Africa.
02 September 1998 – The NSPCA obtained a warrant and entered the property the following day to inspect the elephants and their conditions, taking video footage. The next day, an Order is granted by the Pretoria High Court preventing the NSPCA from publishing or showing the footage to anyone other than their own experts.
16 October 1998 – The NSPCA’s application to seize the elephants on welfare grounds was granted. Just days later, Mr Ghiazza applied for the warrant to be set aside.
December 1998 – The seizure order was confirmed but 7 of the elephants had already been sold and exported to zoos in Europe (which export the NSPCA had unsuccessfully opposed). Mr Ghiazza/African Game Services took the seizure order on review to the Pretoria High Court, which also granted an interdict prohibiting the NSPCA from removing the elephants from the property, leaving them under the de facto control of Mr Ghiazza.
May 1999 – MNET’s actuality programme CARTE BLANCHE showed footage to an overwhelming public reaction. An urgent application by NSPCA to have the elephants removed from the property was refused by the Pretoria High Court.
21 February 2000 – Pretoria High Court gives judgement upholding seizure order. By this time no elephants remained on the property.
February 2001 – The accused appear in Court for the first time to answer criminal charges.
07 April 2003 – Riccardo Ghiazza and Wayne Stockigt found guilty of offences under the Animals Protection Act in the Pretoria Regional Court. A subsequent appeal against these criminal charges failed, and the convictions were upheld.

Riccardo Ghiazza

The Mail and Guardian newspaper reported that Mr Ghiazza had a criminal record; that he was a convicted drug smuggler in Italy and on the run from a jail term for drug-related offences. During the Tuli elephant saga, Mr Ghiazza was arrested on charges relating to falsifying his application for residence in South Africa. (MacLeod 2000).

“We always said it was an issue of cruelty. The crux of the matter was animal abuse. There was no hidden agenda.” Rick Allan

NSPCA Eye-witnesses

“I viewed an elephant in the paddock. It moved incredibly slowly and painfully. It is the one covered in approximately 20 bodily sores.” Anne Cheater

“We came through it with pride.” Animals in Focus 2004

“Where were you when these elephants needed support and assistance?” Animals in Focus 2004

“A stick used on the elephants had a drill bit embedded at the end.”

“The hooked ear loops supposedly to steer the elephants had sharpened points.”

Magistrate AC Bekker who presided over the case: “The mahouts acted unlawfully. One elephant was hit 29 times in the face with a sjambok. It is clear the elephants were terrified. One blow is enough for me to stipulate a cruel beating.”

“We feel vindicated for the stance we took at the time and for all we have said, done and believed in throughout the case.” Chris Kuch 2003

Reactions – Reports on CNN

  • People chained themselves to railings in Washington and London
  • The South African flag burned in Trafalgar Square, London in protest
  • The Spice Girls, Prince Aga Khan amongst others personally wrote appeals to Nelson Mandela to intervene
  • The message FREE THE BABY ELEPHANTS was on a banner as a helicopter flew over the Wanderers stadium during a cricket test match. The crowd stood and applauded
  • Top South African recording artists put together “The Elephant Song”, appealing “Give them back their freedom”
  • 30 animal welfare organisations joined the NSPCA writing to the Secretariat of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species)