Illegal wildlife trafficking is considered to be a multi-billion dollar industry; it is one of the most lucrative transnational crimes behind drug and human-trafficking. However, poachers and crime syndicates aren’t the only ones profiting from taking threatened animals from the wild. Three U.S. zoos just removed almost half of Swaziland’s elephants from their home to be held in captivity and put on display at the Dallas Zoo in Texas, the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas.
Notably, these elephants were drugged, crated, and put onto a plane about a week before Friends of Animals was to present its case against the importation. The Zoos agreed to a hearing of that case on March 17, 2016, and did not tell the Court or Friends of Animals of its plan to transport the elephants before the hearing. It felt like an ambush when we received information that a plane was secretly sent from Kansas City on March 5, 2016, to retrieve the elephants before the scheduled hearing. Friends of Animals immediately asked for emergency relief from the Court, but the elephants had allegedly already been anesthetized and packed into crates by 3 p.m. Eastern Time (12 a.m. local time in Swaziland).
It didn’t have to be this way. Our case was filed shortly after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a permit to import these elephants despite over 7,000 comments opposing the importation. Friends of Animals’ lawsuit claimed that USFWS had a mandatory duty under the National Environmental Policy Act to fully evaluate and disclose whether the elephants, as a result of captivity, would suffer social, psychological, behavioral, and physical impacts for the rest of their lives. Elephants suffer in the captive environment and are traumatized by being moved from the wild. Elephants in captivity become depressed, lose their appetites, and can become fidgety, dissociative and/or even aggressive. It is well documented that captive elephants have a much greater chance of developing health problems and dying at a much earlier age. The world’s foremost experts on elephants, including Dr. Joyce Poole, Dr. Phyllis Lee, Dr. G.A. Bradshaw and the entire board of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group all filed statements supporting the lawsuit.
Moreover, Friends of Animals provided evidence that there were viable alternatives for the elephants if Swaziland claimed it could no longer support them. Groupelephant.com committed to relocate the elephants, if necessary, to another area in southern Africa where they could live out their lives in the wild. Groupelephant.com also committed to match the Zoos payment for the elephants ($450,000 over five years). So while the Zoos justify importing the elephants to “save” them, the elephants had a better offer – protecting them in the wild.
Neither the Zoos nor the USFWS addressed any of the concerns about how devastating the move to U.S. zoos would be. Nor did they address alternatives available for these elephants that would keep them in the wild.
We know these eighteen animals are now likely to suffer the same type of trauma experienced by a human who is kidnapped and subjected to a life of confinement.
How Can You Help?
Don’t let these elephants’ be forgotten. Please spread the word and let the Dallas Zoo, the Henry Doorly Zoo, and the Sedgwick County Zoo know that you do not support their decision to take these animals from their homes in the wild. If you’d like updates on our efforts to protect elephants and other wildlife, go to the Friends of Animals website.
Featured image source: Jude/Flickr