U.S. Zoos Stealthily Take Elephants From Swaziland, Despite Lawsuit to Stop Them

Earlier this year three U.S. zoos sparked some serious controversy over plans to import 18 wild elephants from Swaziland for public display. Now, they’re in the spotlight for stealthily going ahead with the move, despite being in the midst of a legal challenge to stop them.

There are, or were, currently fewer than 35 elephants in Swaziland who lived 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 claimed there are too many elephants there who are degrading habitat needed for black rhinos and 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 applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for a permit to import them and, despite widespread opposition to the plan, the agency approved their request in January.

The zoos presented what they were doing as an altruistic rescue effort, but advocates for these elephants believe it’s nothing more than a business transaction that would only benefit the parties involved, and raised serious concerns about the face that no alternatives were considered and that it would set a dangerous precedent that would provide more of an incentive for further removals and imports.

Not only would Big Game Parks be getting a lot of money for these elephants, zoos need them to fill exhibits they’ve spent millions on, and with plans to breed them, they hope to boost attendance with adorable new babies we just can’t resist.

In February, with the support of elephant experts and the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, Friends of Animals (FoA) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop the import, arguing the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act for failing to evaluate the social, physical and emotional harm taking these elephants away from their homes and families and putting them in a zoo for the remainder of their lives would cause them.

A hearing for the case was scheduled for March 17, but these elephants are not going to get a fair day in court. In what FoA’s calling a “devious” move, the zoos shipped the elephants this week without alerting anyone, including the court.

FoA said in a statement that if it weren’t for the actions of a local in Swaziland who contacted Marc Bekoff, they would still not have known the elephants were taken, adding that the “underhandedness of this move cannot be overstated.”

Now these elephants are expected to arrive at the end of the week and will be split up between the three zoos, doomed to spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

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, all in the name of conservation when it’s anything but.

While it’s too late to save these elephants, we can continue to work to ensure no more suffer the same fate by avoiding facilities that keep them and supporting both sanctuaries and organizations that are working to protect them in the wild.

For more updates on the situation, visit Friends of Animals.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

121 comments

Ruth S
Ruth S10 months ago

Zoos aren't all bad. Many Zoos have natural habits that are roomy and very healthy diets. Zoos help people appreciate animals. Zoos have breeding programs that help save species from extinction. Why is it OK to "cage" a dog or cat in your home but not have these animals in Zoos if well managed.

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Glennis W
Glennis W10 months ago

So sickening and cruel Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W10 months ago

Some zoos are really good others terrible Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W10 months ago

Lying mongerals Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W10 months ago

Deplorable Thank you for caring and sharing

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Peggy B
Peggy B10 months ago

2 years on...has it stopped?

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David C
David C10 months ago

this is 2 years old, any updates??????

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Sue H
Sue H10 months ago

Would love to know if the lawsuit made a difference. ?

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Danuta W
Danuta W10 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Chrissie R
Chrissie R10 months ago

Thanks for posting. There ARE good zoos in the world doing great works to preserve species.

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