Thursday, 18 February 2016

USA: Fight To Stop Swazi Elephants’ Exported To US

Animal activists around the globe have raised concerns about the relocation of 18 African elephants from Swaziland to three zoos in the United States.

American NGO Friends of Animals last week filed a lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service for granting permits to import these elephants to the Dallas Zoo, the Sedwick County Zoo in Kansas and Nebraska’s Henry Doorly Zoo.

In papers filed before the US District Court of Columbia, Michael Harris and Jennifer Best, from the NGO’s wildlife law programme, said Swaziland had about 39 elephants in game reserves, and its current population comes from 18 baby elephants imported from the Kruger National Park to Swaziland in 1987 as a result of hunting and poaching.

They said in 1994, Swaziland imported an additional 19 baby elephants from Kruger.

The NGO said Swaziland officials had claimed that elephants were overrunning their country and that if 18 were not captured and sent to the zoos, it would be forced to kill them outright.

This claim, they said, had been made before.

In 2003, Swaziland sold 11 elephants to American zoos for US$133 000.

Friends of Animals argue that if the zoos succeed in importing these elephants, they would be removing nearly half of all the remaining African elephants in Swaziland, leaving behind about 21.

The relief sought is to:

* declare that the US Fish and Wildlife Service violated the National Environment Policy Act by issuing a permit authorising the import of the elephants without providing a full and fair discussion of the “significant environment impacts”; and to

* declare unlawful and set aside the Service’s decision authorising the importation until it complied with the Act.

Harris said he had not received word from the Service, but expected them to oppose the lawsuit.

“Our next step is to reach out to (the Service) attorneys to discuss whether the government and the zoos are willing to delay the importation of the elephants for the court process to play out. A case like this can take a year or more to be resolved in the US system.

“If a voluntary delay cannot be agreed to, Friends of Animals is likely to make a motion to the court for a preliminary injunction. That could occur in the next few weeks,” he explained.

Harris felt it was time elephants and other animals “be given an ethical and legal right to consideration of their well-being before humans inflict pain and distress”.

He said this case might just establish such legal precedent, “at least in situations like this, where the US must approve the transfer”.

In court papers, they said many independent observers and elephant advocates believed the motive behind this transfer was “simply a business transaction”, because the zoos involved had invested more than $25 million in elephant exhibits and needed to fill them.

The NGO explained that because Swaziland’s African elephant population was protected by international agreements and US law, the zoos were required to obtain a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service to transport and relocate them.

Friends of Animals were among those which apparently demanded the Service examine the social, behavioural and physical impacts on elephants to be imported and their family members left behind, but said the Service ignored these calls.

“FoA members reasonably anticipate that if imported, the elephants will have difficulties transitioning to life in zoos. These elephants are likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from being separated from family members in Swaziland, transported across the world and confined in a foreign place,” read their formal complaint.

A local NGO, Conservation Action Trust, quoted a recent study which found there was a 40-45% mortality rate for elephants in zoos.