18 Wild Elephants Doomed to Life in U.S. Zoos

Animal advocates are criticizing federal wildlife officials for approving a controversial plan to import 18 elephants from Swaziland for a life behind bars in U.S. zoos.

There are currently fewer than 35 elephants in Swaziland who live in two areas, including the Mkhaya Game Reserve and Hlane National Park, which are managed by Big Game Parks – a private organization.

For the second time in a little over a decade, the organization says there are too many elephants there who are degrading habitat needed for black rhinos and has threatened to kill them if they’re not exported to the U.S.

Despite widespread opposition to the plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it has approved the request to import them, and split them up between the Dallas Zoo in Texas, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska.

The announcement comes just a week after the three zoos in question tied for first place on In Defense of Animals’ (IDA) most recent list of the Top 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America over their effort to get their hands on these elephants. Now IDA and other animal advocates are slamming the outcome and failure of the parties involved to consider other alternatives that would have kept them at home in Africa.

They’re also worried about the precedent being set here that will provide more of an incentive for further removals and imports.

“The zoos are rewarding Swaziland by paying large sums for capturing the elephants; thus making these and further captures lucrative for Swaziland and other governments” said Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., Elephant Scientist for IDA. “This is a huge blow to conservation.”

It can probably go without saying at this point that elephants are in dire need of serious conservation efforts, and that most people on both sides of the debate here don’t want to see these elephants die, but moving them to zoos isn’t the best solution and confining these individuals to captivity isn’t going to save their species.

Industry supporters continue to say zoos support education and conservation efforts, and that we need to be able to see these animals up close to care about them, but they’ve been in captivity for decades and the situation for them in the wild is now worse than ever. Captivity might help if elephants were going to be returned to the wild, but that isn’t part of the Species Survival Plan for elephants in U.S. zoos.

“Elephants in zoos will never be returned to Africa, as one would believe by the zoo’s conservation claims. These African elephants will live and die on American soil and concrete. It is the complete opposite of conservation – it is a desecration,” said Frohoff.

We also know more now than ever about how harmful captivity is for these large, far-ranging, intelligent and social creatures. That knowledge alone should be enough to end their confinement, but there’s money to be made off of their continued exploitation, especially when it comes to crowd-pleasing babies.

“This despicable move puts cash before conservation. The elephants have been sold out to line zoos’ pockets,” said IDA’s President Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “It is deeply irresponsible of the USFWS to allow this precedent-setting removal of African elephants from Africa for a lifetime of captivity. Please avoid supporting this suffering and the conservation con – do not visit the zoo.”

Because more elephants are dying in zoos than being born, zoos will continue to disregard what’s best for elephants and turn to the wild to keep a captive population until there is no demand for them.

If you want to help elephants, there are plenty of other ways besides going to a zoo that range from not buying ivory and raising awareness about its impact to supporting legislation to end the trade, in addition to supporting sanctuaries and organizations dedicated to protecting elephants in the wild.

For more info on elephants in zoos, visit In Defense of Animals.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

279 comments

Michele Rosenbaum
m r2 months ago

so sad, tyfs

S Gardner
sandy Gardner2 months ago

RETURN the elephants to a place where they can get medical care and and where they can thrive!

Pablo B.
Pablo B.2 months ago

return to natural habitat. Back to Africa

Janis K.
Janis K.2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Laurie Mazzeo
Laurie Mazzeo2 months ago

Elephants are our friends and we should integrate them in to our society if we take them out of their natural habitat ...the working elephants in India and elsewhere seem happy enough when teamed up with a caring and sharing owner and as far as letting them live in the wild is concerned "A" there is not enough wilderness and " B" there are far too many unscrupulous poachers and so called hunters that would make their existence in whatever wild there is left a risky business !!

Laurie Mazzeo
Laurie Mazzeo2 months ago

Elephants are our friends and we should integrate them in to our society if we take them out of their natural habitat ...the working elephants in India and elsewhere seem happy enough when teamed up with a caring and sharing owner and as far as letting them live in the wild is concerned "A" there is not enough wilderness and " B" there are far too many unscrupulous poachers and so called hunters that would make their existence in whatever wild there is left a risky business !!

Fi T.
Fi T.3 months ago

It's righteous to save the weak

Veronica B.
Veronica B.3 months ago

Elephants belong to Africa!!!
Petition Signed.

Teresa Antela
Teresa Antela3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Nina S.
Nina S.3 months ago

tyfs