Botswana's Baby Elephants Saved from International Trade

by Adam Roberts

In a significant victory against the cruel global live animal trade, a South African judge has ruled in favor of the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) in a case involving 30 baby elephants, many reportedly as young as two years old, who were separated from their herds in Botswana's Tuli Reserve and exported to South Africa by animal dealer Riccardo Ghiazza. Ghiazza was reportedly planning to sell the elephants for $25,000 each to parks and zoos in various countries including Germany, China, Switzerland, and possibly the United States. Now the NSPCA will be able to seize the elephants and initiate a long-term plan to rehabilitate them and reunite them with their families. At the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), last summer in Harare, Zimbabwe, Botswana's elephant population was downlisted from Appendix I to Appendix II, allowing trade in live animals "to appropriate and acceptable destinations." Animal dealers such as Ghiazza have been poised to profit from the Parties misguided downlisting decision.

The elephant herds were separated with a low-flying helicopter. Any babies that were split from the family were captured and removed. Cynthia Moss, noted elephant researcher and Director of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya stated:

"Biologically each elephant calf is extremely important to its mother because she has to invest so much time and effort in producing and rearing each calf to adulthood.... If a calf is to survive to adulthood it too must form intense close bonds with its mother and other family members."

CITES mandates that live animals "be so handled as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment." But the poor victims of this international profiteer have been incarcerated in a warehouse, their front and hind legs chained with rattan, and individuals tethered to the ground prevent contact with one another. An inspector for the NCSPA who managed to gain entrance to the premises reported hearing high-pitched cries coming from the babies. In a CNN interview, elephant researcher Joyce Poole reported:

"These elephants have not only been brutally beaten, but they've been psychologically traumatized, as well. ...They have been treated really badly, absolutely appalling what's happened down there. I have never, ever seen elephants looking so bad, even elephants that have been orphaned, they don't look like that. ...Well, I went in, I went back into the barn and they didn't expect me to come back and there were several elephants that were huddled in there in chains, and they were being prodded with one of these. This is a piece of wood here with a drill bit in the end. And we're being told by the opposition that the wounds on these animals heads are being made by other elephants. That's simply not true. They have got pus coming out of their foreheads. It's just unbelievable."

The Animal Welfare Institute and other members of the Species Survival Network sent a letter to the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and the Botswanan Minister of Local Government, Lands and Housing in an attempt to prevent further capture and export of baby elephants from Botswana and to keep these 30 baby elephants from being exported to zoos in developed countries. We have collectively requested that Botswana investigate ways of returning these babies to their families and that South Africa refrain from re-exporting the elephants. Daphne Sheldrick, who runs an elephant orphanage in Kenya, has noted:

"Calves that are orphaned between 4 and 7 years will have no trouble whatsoever (in finding their families) because they remember their elephant family clearly and are familiar with the elephant 'language'..."

These baby elephants should have never been ripped from their families in the first place; but unlike elephants that are killed for their ivory, these animals have the opportunity to once again roam the African landscape with their relatives and friends. The Animal Welfare Institute has joined other organizations in the United States and Europe in funding the NSPCA's efforts to help these baby elephants.

ACTION: To contribute to their noble effort, please contact: Ms. Marcelle French, National Council of SPCAs, Mail Box 1320, Alberton, 1450, Republic of South Africa.

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