STOP PRESS: Both Zoos relinquished their import permits over inaccuracies in the permit applications!
Fewer than 45 elephants reside in The Kingdom of Swaziland, a small country wedged between South Africa and Mozambique. If California's San Diego Zoo and Florida's Lowry Park Zoo have their way, Swaziland's elephant population would be cut by about 25%. These zoos received permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to import 11 elephants from Swaziland, marking the first zoo import of wild African elephants since the 1980s. This importation sends the erroneous message that America should subsidize its dwindling numbers of captive elephants at the expense of an already diminished wild population. Swaziland has been replenishing its elephants since they were wiped out by poaching five decades ago, while U.S. zoos have been experimenting with captive breeding programs with deadly consequences.
The zoos claim that without their beneficent intervention, the elephants would be killed to manage the remaining resident population, despite the fact that Swaziland's Hlane National Park and Mhkaya Game Reserve, in which the elephants currently reside, have not even reached their carrying capacity. There are more humane alternatives to address elephant conservation in Swaziland than slaughtering these magnificent creatures. Elephants can be translocated to other protected areas (at least three have been identified in southern Africa), additional land could be acquired adjacent to Hlane and Mhkaya to expand the available habitat in these protected areas, and long-term immunocontraception programs could be employed, similar to those that have been tested effectively in South Africa's Kruger National Park. A coalition including the Animal Welfare Institute brought suit against FWS, challenging the legality of the import permits. Our complaint alleges that, contrary to international rules under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, there is no proof that this import will not be detrimental to the species in the wild. Outrageously, there isn't even clear confirmation that the animals identified on the import permits are the same elephants that have been rounded up by the zoos. The Mkhaya Game Reserve's 18 elephants were to be the pool from which the 11 for import were selected. But reports from Swaziland indicate that on the week of March 10, 2003, approximately 24 elephants were rounded up-necessarily indicating that some were taken from outside Mkhaya, apparently in contravention of the information in the permit applications. Wild elephants should be left to wander freely with their families and friends through their native savannahs playing in watering holes and mud pits, and interacting with one another as they choose.