NSPCA Again Grieves For Elephants


“We are extremely disappointed and do not feel that justice has been served,” said Senior Inspector Isabel Wentzel, Manager of the NSPCA’s Wildlife Protection Unit, commenting on the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions; Grahamstown to decline to prosecute in the case against the owners/directors of the Brian Boswell Circus and the elephant trainer.

In March 2013, the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) laid criminal charges in terms of the Animals Protection Act against 7 individuals; two owners and directors of the Brian Boswell Circus, the elephant trainer and 4 elephant handlers employed at this circus. The charges related to the beating, chaining, confining and failure to provide sufficient water and shade for the elephants.

Video footage had been taken by witnesses showing two elephants beaten with sticks and whips, chained and exposed to heat for hours without access to shade or water for the period between December 2013 and January 2014 whilst the circus was at the Walmer West Primary School in Port Elizabeth.

After the footage was aired on Carte Blanche during 2013, it was alleged that the four elephant handlers seen in the video evidence had been dismissed and have since “disappeared”. Despite continual efforts from the investigating team, no further information on the names, identities or the whereabouts of these four handlers was forthcoming from the circus owners or directors. To date, the individuals have not been identified or traced.

The two elephants in the centre of this case were eventually removed from the circus and returned to the premises of the Natal Zoological Gardens.

In January 2016, the remaining three accused made their first appearances in the Port Elizabeth Court. The case was postponed. Three more scheduled Court appearances were postponed without any decisions being made. Finally, the decision was made by the Director of Public Prosecutions in Grahamstown that the State declined to prosecute and that the charges must be withdrawn against the three accused. The reasoning behind the decision was confirmed to the NSPCA in writing.

Advocate C de Klerk stated that “the video material reveals incidents that amounts to ill-treatment of elephants” but that the individuals involved, employed at that time by the Brian Boswell circus, cannot be traced. The communication added that “to hold the owner accountable, there must be evidence that the owner either knowingly permitted such conduct or failed to prevent such conduct through the exercise of reasonable care and supervision”. Advocate De Klerk further stated that such evidence is lacking.

The NSPCA contends that statements by witnesses indicate that these owners were personally informed of incidents of beatings of the elephants that occurred even before incidents were captured on video, but failed to take action.

The Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962 defines “owner” as “any person having possession, charge, custody and control of an animal.” The Act lists as an offence owners who permit certain acts of ill-treatment by remaining passive and allowing them to continue even after being informed, as well as permitting acts or omissions that could have been prevented by exercising reasonable care and supervision.

A point of comparison is the Tuli elephant case (the NSPCA uncovered unacceptable training methods and laid criminal charges) which began in mid 1998, when the owner was found guilty of animal cruelty. Although he was not personally involved in the beatings of the elephants, he had knowledge of the beatings and actions of his handlers and could have prevented it by certain actions, or reasonable care and supervision.

It seems that, in this latest case, all blame will be laid at the doors of these conveniently unidentified handlers dismissed before they were given a chance to tell their side of the story. Unless they are found, these elephants will not receive any justice.

The NSPCA remains opposed to the use of any wild animals in entertainment, circuses or travelling menageries.

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