3 U.S. Zoos Under Fire for Trying to Take Elephants from Africa

Despite the growing controversy that surrounds keeping elephants in zoos and a mounting body of evidence that they do poorly in captivity, three facilities in the U.S. are working on a misguided plan to import 18 elephants from Swaziland for public display – all while misleading the public into believing this is something we should support.

There are currently fewer than 35 elephants in Swaziland who currently live in two areas, including the Mkhaya Game Reserve and Hlane National Park, which are managed by Big Game Parks – a private organization that conveniently runs without any government oversight.

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.

The Dallas Zoo in Texas, Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas and Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska have applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for a permit to import the elephants in what they’re presenting to the public as a rescue effort that will support elephant conservation.

Elephant advocates, however, have a very different take on the situation and are opposing this move –  arguing that the plan is unethical and driven more by profit on both sides than a sincere effort to help elephants. In exchange for the elephants, BGP will get $90,000 annually for the next five years, while the zoos, which plan to breed them, hope to boost attendance with adorable new babies.

In an open letter, representatives from dozens of conservation and animal advocacy organizations outlined numerous reasons for opposing their import, including the fact that killing is now considered an outdated form of wildlife management that hasn’t been used in South Africa for more than two decades.

They agree that if action was truly needed, the best option would be to move them to another protected area in Africa, yet there’s no evidence showing this was ever even considered, or why it would be rejected as an alternative.

“Today, non-lethal management alternatives exist, including potentially relocating the elephants to protected parks or sanctuaries in Africa. By engaging with Swaziland’s Big Game Parks, the US zoos are endorsing and, even worse, financially rewarding outdated and irresponsible wildlife management practices,” said Keith Lindsay, a conservation biologist with Kenya’s Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

Unfortunately, because more are dying than being born in captivity, zoos will continue to turn to removing more from the wild to keep a captive population as long as people continue to pay to see them. As a result, families will be torn apart and those who are taken will be sentenced to a life of confinement complete with the health and psychological problems that come with it.

While the FWS has considered three options including approving the permit, denying the permit or approving a permit to import fewer elephants, the agency said in its assessment that it is leaning towards approving the permit to bring them here.


The FWS will be accepting public comments on the permit until November 23. Please submit one at regulations.gov asking the FWS to deny it.

For more info, check out The Big Rumble: Stop U.S. Zoos From Importing Wild Elephants.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Mari S.
Mari S3 years ago

Whatever works for the elephants, I say -- as long as they're happy, healthy and comfortable.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Dianne D.
Dianne D3 years ago

I think all zoo's need to be shut down. There is no reason for them other than to exploit animals and make money for the humans.

Julia Cabrera-Woscek

What a shame and lame action.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago


Elaine Bauer
Elaine Bauer3 years ago

All zoos should be history! Sanctuaries? Yes, but within the animals' native habitat.

Manuela C.
Manuela C3 years ago

Ugh! I'm so sick of zoos...

Aleksia M.
Aleksia M3 years ago


Nicolai L.
Nicolai L3 years ago

thanks for sharing this story

Kamia T.
Kamia T3 years ago

Shame on them and a pox on the liars! There's no reason in today's world of documentaries and internet access to almost every square inch of the planet to need to relocate ANY wild animal except to save them.