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Welfare of elephants in captivity comes under question

Written by: Melissa Reitz for Conservation Action Trust 

A NSPCA report has revealed that elephant rides are still widely available in South Africa, despite a growing international move away from the controversial practice.

report by the NSPCA (National Council of SPCAs) on the welfare status of elephants in captivity, at 26 elephant back safari and sanctuary facilities nationwide, (14 of which offer elephant back riding) reveals that nearly all captive elephants suffer welfare deficiencies in one way or another. This highlights the fact that South Africa is lagging behind in a growing global trend against using captive elephants for entertainment.

The report, compiled by the NSPCA’s Wildlife Protection Unit, has been submitted to all relevant government departments in South Africa as well as NGOs nationally and abroad and offers a scientific overview of the cruel realities that many captive elephants endure physically and emotionally.

The report also confirms the lack of conservation benefits of the captive elephant industry. The WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) do not consider captive breeding a significant contribution to elephant conservation due to low breeding and high mortality rates. Also noted in the report is the high number of human injury and fatality due to public interaction with captive elephants.

According to the NSPCA report, more than half of the 26 facilities keeping captive elephants for public interaction use a method called: “free contact” which includes the use of physical punishment, by means of an ankus or hook, to train elephants into submission.

“If tourists knew what it took to train an elephant for their ‘pleasure’, South African tourism could be damaged,” states Dr Mandy Lombard of Public Watch. “Although we hear of people being killed, only very few of the incidents where elephant handlers or tourists are attacked have been exposed to the public.”

In the rest of the world a growing movement against elephant back riding is emerging – with many travel agencies taking elephant riding off their itineraries and dissuading customers from supporting the practice.

“We do not promote elephant trekking or elephant riding on Responsible Travel,” says leading online travel specialists ResponsibleTravel.com.

Unlike South Africa, thirty-seven countries across the globe have bans on animals in circuses such as: Mexico, Greece, Belgium and the Netherlands. Although not yet nationally endorsed, certain states of America have also issued circus animal bans but England remains divided on this as political parties’ debate whether or not to change legislation.

Currently the NSPCA has cases pending against Brian Boswell Circus for cruelty charges; and a further two against the owners of Knysna Elephant Park on the Garden Route for cruelty and the illegal removal of elephants from the wild.



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