EXPERT OPION OF SANParks PURSUIT OF A SCIENTIFIC BASED STRATEGY FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF THE KNYSNA FOREST ELEPHANT

EXPERT OPINION OF THE SANPARKS PURSUIT OF A SCIENTIFIC-BASED STRATEGY FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF THE KNYSNA FOREST ELEPHANT

The Pro Elephant Network (PREN) consists of a significant global community of diverse individuals and organisations. The PREN network boasts a wealth of expertise, related to wild and captive African and Asian Elephants, including but not limited to the fields of science, health, conservation, welfare and well-being, economics, community leadership, indigenous knowledge, social justice and the law, these experts have enjoyed a successful collaborative function since 2019.

On the 22nd March 2024 members of PREN offered their expert opinion about SANParks pursuit of a scientific based strategy for the management of the Knysna Forest elephant.

Introduction

The Knysna elephant(s), Loxodonta africana, represent the most southerly group of savanna elephants in Africa; they are remnant of larger populations which occupied this region of South Africa in the past. Due to the influx of humans over the last century, the range of these elephants was largely confined to the approximately 200 km2 forest area around Knysna. The decline of this population of elephants to a single adult female presents a major challenge to the national conservation agency, South African National Parks (SANParks).

On the 7th of March 2024, SANParks issued a public statement confirming their intention to pursue an evidence-based management approach for the female elephant, located in the Knysna forest. More specifically, the Knysna forest is an area located in the Garden Route District Municipality in the Western Cape province of South Africa which falls under the management of SANParks.

According to the content of the media statement, SANParks has embarked on a sociological and ecological assessment that will guide their decision-making process. A targeted survey confirmed that, while the majority of respondents were in favour of the introduction of more elephants to the Garden

Route elephant range, they were cognisant of the fact that it would be a complicated process requiring expertise.

The reason for the statement issued by SANParks on the 7th of March 2024 is that a filmmaker who tracked, photographed and published photographs of an elusive female elephant in Knysna forest for twelve weeks in 2023 is trying to convince SANParks that a herd of elephants should be introduced to the Knysna forest to provide company for the lone female and to restore the ecosystem in the Knysna forest.

Since his brief single encounter with the elephant, he has been championing the introduction of an imported herd of elephants to the forest. He has formed an action group called Herd Instinct. The group, described on their Facebook page, as free-spirited environmentalists who believe that the lone female elephant desperately needs company. On the 14th of March 2024, the group organised a meeting in Knysna to galvanise support.

SANParks has captured the female elephant on camera every two to three weeks and they have, as a result, accumulated over 15000 photographs and high-quality videos of her, using strategically placed camera traps. Through the measurement of stress hormones in her dung it has been confirmed that, in areas where there is intense human activity or when she is being tracked, she becomes stressed.

Background

Historically, elephants occurred widely along the Southern Cape region using a variety of habitats until their population numbers were decimated by ivory hunters. Unfortunately, the Knysna elephants, the only remaining free-ranging elephants in South Africa, have failed to flourish in that location even after official protection was afforded to them in 1908.

According to the study entitled The Decline of the Knysna Elephants – Pattern and Hypothesis it is estimated that of the 3000 elephants that roamed the Cape Floristic Region in pre-colonial times, it is likely that about 1000 elephants occupied the Outeniqua-Tsitsikamma area. Between 1856 and 1886 Knysna experienced a marked influx of humans and a boom in development which increased human- elephant conflict at a further detrimental cost to the elephant population.

During the late 1800s, an estimated 400 to 500 elephants lived in the area but by 1900 only 30 to 50 individuals were left. The aforementioned study highlights the knowledge and management challenges which exist for small, threatened populations of elephants where the long-term demographic data are sparse. The study also provides the first, unbiased evaluation of multiple drivers that may have caused the decline of the Knysna elephants.

The Knysna forest elephants have been the subject of mystery and conjecture for years. Gareth Patterson an award-winning environmentalist, wildlife expert, author and public speaker, published a book called Beyond Secret Elephants which highlights his extensive experiences based on the seven years that he spent examining the Knysna forest on foot.

In 2007 and 2009 his physical research samples were examined by Professor Lori Eggert, the Director of Graduate Studies in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, who has developed a method of genetic censusing specifically for the study of African and Asian elephant populations. According to Professor Lori Eggert, the Knysna forests contain more than one elephant. The results of this study, The Knysna Elephants a Population Study Conducted Using Faecal DNA were published in 2007.

In contradiction to Patterson and Eggert’s published findings, were the results of a study that was conducted in 2016 and 2017 led by SANParks scientist Lizette Moolman using 80 cameras deployed at nearly 40 locations over the entire range. The cameras were all active for 15 months and during this time the same female elephant was identified in 140 capture events, always by herself. No other elephants were photographically captured. The conclusion of the study titled, And Then There Was One: A Camera Trap Survey of the Declining Population of African Elephants in Knysna was that it must be recognised that the Knysna population is functionally extinct. Future management must reflect either supplementation and or the addressing the welfare issues regarding the one remaining elephant.

REQUEST THE USFWS TO IMPLEMENT AN IMMEDIATE BAN ON THE IMPORT OF ELEPHANT TROPHIES FROM AFRICA

On Wednesday, 20th March 2024, an urgent appeal was sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to U.S. Minister of the Interior to implement an immediate ban on the import of elephant trophies from Africa, after US citizens were found responsible for the killing of some of Africa’s last big tuskers.

The appeal from members of the Pro Elephant Network was endorsed by concerned wildlife conservation organisations and individuals from around the world.

The African Elephant was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1978. At the time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule under section 4(d) of the ESA to regulate the import and certain interstate commerce of the species in the United States.

Section 4(d) of the ESA provides the Secretary of the Interior with broad discretion to publish appropriate regulations tailored to the specific conservation needs of a species. The 4(d) rule has been amended multiple times to address changing threats to African elephants. The fourth and most recent amendment, made in 2016, was in response to increased poaching of elephants for ivory and led to a near-total ban on the trade in ivory in the United States.

In 2021, the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) was classified as Critically Endangered and the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Amboseli population of savanna elephants includes adult males with some of the largest tusks on the African continent due to the particular genetic makeup of these elephants and the many years of protection they have been afforded from trophy hunting and poaching.

In late 2023, however, two adult males from the Amboseli population, with tusks reportedly weighing over 100 lbs. were shot south of the border in Tanzania, ending a 30-year trophy hunting moratorium in the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area. A third elephant was shot in the same area in late February 2024 and, as of 10 March, a further three licenses are said to have been granted putting the integrity of the Amboseli elephant population in serious jeopardy.

Introduction to the Pro Elephant Network

The Pro Elephant Network (PREN) consists of a global community of diverse individuals and organisations, united in their common concern for Nature, their deep association with the natural world and their commitment to apply their experience for the greater good.

These individuals and organisations embrace expertise from both within Western academies (including the fields of science, conservation, animal welfare, human and non-human rights, philosophy and ethics, advocacy, economics, community leadership, writing, the media, social justice and the law) and the indigenous paradigm.

PREN provides a strong framework for cooperation and networking and aims to end and reverse the impacts of harmful practices towards Elephants including but not limited to capture, imprisonment, captive breeding, abuse, training, exhibition, commercial contact and trade in live Elephants and body parts. Employing evidence- based information, PREN promotes the intrinsic value and self-determination of free-living elephants for the purpose of ending all exploitation of elephants.

ELEPHANTS DO NOT BELONG IN ZOOS

PUBLIC STATEMENT

Zoos are becoming less attractive to customers because the demand for animal performances and exploitation is decreasing, according to the director of the welfare organisation Animal Asia. This is despite the fact that the demand for animal exploitation is exaggerated by those who provide it. 

Zoos are increasingly searching for alternative revenue streams. For example, the Pretoria Zoo hosts public parties, festivals and after-hours events which often feature live music, DJ line-ups and alcohol.

The administrators and advisors of the Pretoria Zoo continue to justify the captivity of elephants for conservation purposes. However, this argument is questionable as there are already large populations of elephants living in natural environments in South Africa. 

Public conservation education is a requirement for membership in professional zoo associations.  However, in recent years, zoos have been criticized for failing to educate the public on conservation issues and related biological concepts.

Background of the development of the Modern Zoo 

Carl Hagenbeck was a prominent animal trader animal and ethnographic showman in the 19th century. He was known for his enormously popular displays of humans, animals and artefacts gathered from all over the world, and he supplied many European zoos with wild exotic animals.  In 1907, he created the first modern zoo: a zoo featuring wild animal enclosures that were designed without any bars. 

The Hagenbeck revolution, as it was known, included enclosures using moats and artfully arranged rock displays to discreetly confine animals. In this manner, Hagenbeck attempted to artfully disguise their captivity and in doing so created the illusion that the animals on display were living in a natural environment.

David Hancocks, a well renowned British zoo director, architect and consultant, envisioned and oversaw the creation of a revolutionary gorilla exhibit in 1976 which featured amongst other, mature trees and an abundance of natural foliage at the Woodland Park Zoo.  David Hancocks has subsequently become an outspoken critic of zoos and similar institutions.  In an interview,  commenting on zoo architecture and enrichment he concluded:   

“The exhibits today may now look more natural, but in terms of animal needs they are typically not much better than the old menagerie cages (which, incidentally, still remain in every detail in many holding facilities and off-exhibit zoo areas). Concrete trees, vegetation that is sealed off by electric wires, acres of fake rockwork that does not feel or act like real rocks in its thermal capacities, substrates that just get packed down harder and harder, are never tilled and become like concrete. A few dead trees perhaps, that are dried up and hard as iron, and just as useless to the animal occupants. More disturbingly, nothing ever changes in these useless zoo spaces. Zoo animals step out into the very same unchanged space every morning day after day after year after year”.

And also: 

“The zoo passion today for ‘enrichment’ is, to me, a public admission of defeat. In a space that gives the animals what they truly require there is no need to litter the place with junk and other distractions. Animals in the wild don’t require ‘enrichment’. They have agency and can choose to interact with the living components of their natural habitats (physical, living and social). They are able to engage the repertoire of behaviours that they evolved for use within their natural habitat and to do so without being artificially enticed to mimic a few aspects of those behaviours by a keeper. 

Animals in the wild do not require a keeper’s stimulation to be active; they have places worth exploring and have their natural, social mix of compatriots, and that is a sufficient stimulus for them to be active. They can dig, fly, run, climb, soar and do all manner of natural things denied to most animals in most zoos”.

THE PREN SUBMISSION OF COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT POLICY POSITION FOR SUSTAINABLE USE OF ELEPHANT, LION, LEOPARD AND RHINOCEROS TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY, FISHERIES AND THE ENVIRONMENT

PREN members are of the strong opinion that in keeping with the vision of a secured, restored, and rewilded natural landscapes with thriving populations of Elephant, Lion, Rhino, and Leopard, as indicators for a vibrant, responsible, inclusive, transformed, and sustainable wildlife sector, the policies related to elephants in captivity in South Africa should be closely examined. The aforementioned vision was determined following two years of work carried out by the Ministerial appointed High Level Panel of Experts, Minister Barbara Creecy released the HLP Report on the 2nd of May 2021.

In order to prevent further exploitation of elephants currently held captive in South Africa an entire section should be included in the Draft Policy Position on the Sustainable Use of Elephant, Lion, Leopard and Rhinoceros. Facilities in South Africa in which elephants are held in controlled environments for profit must be persuaded to provide the government with verifiable updated data on each elephant held in captivity including the purpose of the facilities. Facilities advertised as sanctuaries or rehabilitation facilities for elephants must provide details of such.

The United Kingdom remains the top European source market of tourists visiting South Africa. The Animals Low-Welfare Activities Abroad Act of 2023 is a new law which aims to protect animals used in tourism, the legislation which applies in England and Northern Ireland will also allow the British government to bring forward a ban on selling or advertising specific types of wildlife tourism. This is likely to include unethical activities where elephants are forced to take selfies with tourists, where elephants have been subjected to brutal training methods, and where elephants are ridden or drugged for human interaction. In South Africa, facilities offer elephant back riding, feeding, walking, touching, riding, partying, getting married and even sleeping over, with the elephants.

PREN is currently supporting a number of initiatives to release elephants from unsuitable captive facilities in South Africa, including providing scientific evidence, highlighting issues of concern and suggesting best solutions for the release of Charlie the elephant, held at the SANBI National Zoological Garden (NZG) and recently showcasing distressed and stereotypical behaviour; PREN has also supported the relocation of Tswale the elephant, who is used for close human interaction on private property in the Mpumalanga province.

PREN is of the strong opinion that all tourist attractions that keep or breed elephants for commercial purposes and promote direct contact with elephants, including rides, shows or tricks, should be phased out. PREN elephant specialists would be happy to work with the South African authorities to identify the most appropriate solutions for these elephants.

CHARLIE THE ELEPHANT SHOWCASING STEREOTYPICAL BEHAVIOUR AT THE PARTY VENUE PRETORIA ZOO IN SOUTH AFRICA

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMjbvhuW6/

Members of the Pro Elephant Network have once again expressed their dismay about the treatment of Charlie at the Pretoria Zoo. Videos of him stereotyping while loud music is heard in the background have been published by a visitor to the Pretoria Zoo on Tik-Tok.

PREN has previously expressed concern about the negative effects the continuous loud and live music played at the well attended SANBI Pretoria Zoo party events are having on the welfare and well-being of resident animals, especially Charlie.

PREN addressed an urgent letter to:

Honourable Barbara Creecy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, SANBI Chairperson Professor Edward Nesamvuni  and the CEO of SANBI Shonisani Munzhedzi 

Filmed and published on the social media platform TikTok, the Elephant known as Charlie showcases stereotypical behaviour at the Pretoria Zoo. The video is posted by TikTok subscriber Anell Eelox with the caption “This elephant is feeling the music, the cutest thing I saw today #elephantdancing #majestic #pretoriazoo”

Stereotypies are repetitive, seemingly functionless actions. In Elephants, they typically involve repeated rocking from side to side, swaying, and head bobbing and appear in those animals who are strictly confined such as, for example, chained.

The presence of stereotypic behaviour is widely[1] acknowledged to be an indicator of poor animal husbandry, and suffering.   Stereotypic behaviour also indicates social isolation, or conflict, anxiety, frustration or fear and severe anxiety.  Dr Bob Jacobs, a member of PREN, neuroscientist at Colorado College and an expert in comparative neuroscience in particular the brains of Elephants, has highlighted how Elephants and cetaceans share several characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to impoverished artificial environments, which affect and damage the fine structure and function of their brain. Stereotypy, which reflects dysregulation in the brain’s motor control systems, has been observed in both humans and non-human animals.

The aforementioned post on TikTok, with its one billion subscribers, contradicts SANBI’s commitment to science and technology.  

While members of PREN can forgive the comments of an uneducated visitor to the zoo, they cannot ignore the fact that the board of the South African National Biodiversity Institute condones the conditions under which a captive Elephant is forced to endure. It is for this reason that on the 28th of August 2023, members of the Pro Elephant Network wrote an URGENT letter of concern about the wellbeing and welfare of Charlie at the National Zoological Gardens in South Africa.  

Concern for Charlie was expressed in light of the fact that the zoo is utilized for party events where alcohol is served and DJs present a line-up of music which lasts for several hours.  This is not appropriate for animals that are forcibly held in captivity.  

PREN members note that, despite raising concerns in previous correspondence, numerous other events have continued to be held at the Pretoria Zoo in September and October 2023. 

Did the Zoo conduct any precautionary welfare assessment on the impacts of loud music on the animals? Were precautions taken to minimise negative impacts? Were areas accurately chosen? Were impacts monitored, and recorded? Did the zoo measure sound? Did the zoo observe impacts? Were sound-reducing barriers utilized? Did the zoo’s Ethics Committee evaluate all these factors before the decision to host many events was taken? 

Studies have indicated that increased visitors and noise or light levels at the zoo can have a negative impact on the welfare and stress levels of animals, particularly mammals. Research confirmed that events at zoos change the behaviour of animals and that animals, if allowed, choose from crowded and loud events, therefore zoos should at least conduct credible welfare assessments and follow all the steps to effectively mitigate impacts for every species affected.  

If the zoo has conducted all these assessments, would they be willing to publish the assessment results and impact analysis? If instead they were not conducted, the undersigned members of PREN are requesting that future events be urgently cancelled. 


[1] Greco BJ, Meehan CL, Hogan JN, Leighty KL, Mellen J, Mason G, Mench JAThe days and nights of zoo elephants: using epidemiology to   better understand stereotypic behavior of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) and Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in North American zoos. PLoS ONE 2016. doi: pone.0144276.

Haspeslagh et al 2013 A survey of foot problems, stereotypic behaviour and floor type in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in European zoos in Animal Welfare22(4):437-443 DOI:10.7120/09627286.22.4.437

Mason, G. J. 1991. Stereotypies and suffering. Behavioural Processes, 25(2-3), 103–115. https://doi.org/10.1016/0376-6357(91)90013-P

Kurt F & Garaï M. 2001. Stereotypies in captive Asian elephants- a symptom of social isolation. Scientific Progress Reports in: A Research Update of Elephants  and RhinosProceedings of the International Elephant and Rhino Research Symposium, Vienna June 7-11,2001. pp.57-63

Mason G. J. 1991. Stereotypies: a critical review. Animal Behaviour, 41:1015-1037

Romero LM. 2004. Physiological stress in ecology: lessons from biomedical research. TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution, 19(5):249-255

Bondi CO, Rodriguez G, Gould GG, Frazer A & Morilak DA. 2008. Chronic unpredictable stress induces a cognitive deficit and anxiety-like behavior in rats that is prevented by chronic antidepressant drug treatment. Neuropsychopharmacology, 33:320-331

©PREN 2023. All Rights Reserved.

WELL-BEING AND WELFARE CONCERNS FOR CHARLIE AT THE NATIONAL ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS

Introduction

The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa needs to ensure the well-being and welfare of all the animals in their care. If this basic requirement is achieved, the mission and vision of SANBI’s scientific goal of conservation, research and education can begin to be addressed.

According to scientific studies zoos negatively impact the well-being of the animals they house. This is due to inherent aspects such as unvarying husbandry routines (Lyons et al.,1997) and constantly exposing the animals to the public (Young, 2003, Davey 2006, Davey, 2007).

One obvious and significant stressor is the noise/sound environment in the zoo. From time to time zoo animals can be exposed to potentially intense noise, for example, noise arising from automated gardening equipment or maintenance activities. Studies have demonstrated that unnatural noise can elicit stress responses in animals, especially Elephants and that whilst animals in zoos can adapt to many noises that they hear on a regular basis, a noise that is intense or unpredictable may negatively impact the welfare and induce a chronic stress response.

The National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) Minimum Standards for the Management of Captive Elephants, S4.22 suggests that Elephants are particularly sensitive to sound.

Noise pollution and sound pressure are increased with audience size, scientific studies analysed the behaviour of mammals at zoos and noted that zoo visitors, in general, have a negative welfare impact on individual zoo-housed mammals, especially groups of noisy visitors where levels were recorded outside of the recommended limits for human well-being.3 This study recommended that zoos needed to address this issue through a combination of visitor education campaigns and acoustic modification to enclosures.

Members of the Pro Elephant Network (PREN) have monitored the Pretoria Zoo closely since 2020, because of our interest in Charlie and our support for the negotiation process between the Honourable Minister, SANBI and the EMS Foundation, to release Charlie into a natural environment.

We have therefore taken note and recorded a rapid increase in the zoo facility being utilised as an organised music festival and party venue in 2023.

It is truly wonderful to see South Africans relaxing and enjoying themselves in a safe space and the Pretoria Zoo offers such a venue, however, we do not believe that animals, especially animals that are confined to enclosures should be forced to endure these festivities.

In 2015 the London Zoo was forced to shut down its alcohol-fuelled Friday night zoo parties because sources at the zoo were concerned at the impact of visitors’ rowdy behaviour on the animals. These revelations prompted a series of petitions signed by tens of thousands of people calling on the zoo to end the parties and an investigation by the Westminster council.

For your convenience, below we have highlighted a few of the recent events held at the Pretoria Zoo. We are extremely concerned with the location of Charlie’s enclosure with regard to the proximity of the parties.

The National Zoological Gardens is a Party Venue for Hire

Our research cannot provide the results of any scientific studies conducted on the negative effects on the well-being or welfare of the animals living at a zoo when amplified music is played over a nine-hour period. Quite obviously no such study has been carried out because wild animals should not be forced to endure such invasive and unnatural conditions.

Pretoria Zoo Women’s Day Party – 5th August 2023

The Woman’s Day party event started at 09H00 and ended at 20H00 and offered an exciting line-up of DJs. The entrance tickets were sold at Computicket, according to the promoters the event was sold out.

When studying all these images and videos, we fail to establish examples of SANBI’s mission to champion conservation or provide the enjoyment of South Africa’s rich biodiversity. SANBI’s mandate is primarily derived from NEMBA and includes managing the National Botanical and Zoological Gardens as windows to South Africa’s biodiversity for enjoyment and education.”

The zoo animals, especially Charlie the Elephant, whose enclosure is visible in some of the images, are confronted with a constant barrage of music. The noise is related to all the partygoers who are so obviously fuelled by alcohol. There will be additional noise pollution related to the set-up of these events and clean-up operations of the zoo after the events.

Read about the other events and see the images in the attached letter.

Conclusion

The undersigning members of PREN are deeply concerned about the impact these events are having on Charlie’s physical and psychological health, his sleeping patterns and his stress levels.

PREN is of the learned opinion that SANBI and the zoo management are not demonstrating adequate consideration for his welfare. A recognised scientific organisation should never condone the behaviour demonstrated in these videos and images.

We note that there are three further party events planned in September alone.

We have noted that the visitors are obviously not interested in the animals living at the zoo as there is not a single image of the animals amongst the images proudly splashed across various social media platforms.

No animal should be subjected to this type of continuous suffering and abuse. We are, quite frankly taken aback that the SANBI scientific community could possibly condone these activities in such close proximity to Charlie’s enclosure.

PREN 2023. All Rights Reserved.

THE TREATMENT OF ELEPHANTS AT THE BUDDHIST KANDE VIHARAYA TEMPLE IN SRI LANKA

PREN’S CONTINUING DIALOGUE WITH TRIP ADVISOR

Image Credit:
https://www.dailymirror.lk/print/front_page/Muthu-Raja-getting-ready-to-leave-for-Thailand/238-262053
https://www.dailymirror.lk/print/front_page/Muthu-Raja-getting-ready-to-leave-for-Thailand/238-262053

Excerpts from the latest correspondence between PREN and TripAdvisor reads as follows:

The undersigned members of PREN are of the view that TA should consider implementing a red-light or alert system of the facilities known to exploit elephants or not conforming to animal welfare standards, therefore disabling TA to “sell tickets for or generate booking revenue from” the facilities. This approach might incentivise such facilities to improve their criteria. 

The consideration of the development of a methodology able to detect keywords in order to penalise tourist attractions with low or non-existent animal welfare standards will be a lifesaving tool for the Elephants.

The development of an overarching system that is able to detect keywords in order to penalise touristic attractions with low or non-existent animal welfare standards, could be an effective and impactful solution that is worthy of further consideration.  

A NOTEWORTHY SCENARIO: THE BUDDHIST KANDE VIHARAYA TEMPLE, SRI LANKA

In 2001 the Thai government donated an Elephant called Muthu Raja to Sri Lanka.  On the 2nd of July 2023, following complex but determined negotiations, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Thailand Varawut Silpa-archa, repatriated the Elephant, after reports of abusive conditions in Sri Lanka.

The associated negotiations led to the Thai government rescinding and revoking its gift to Sri Lanka and removing the Elephant from a well-known Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in Kande Viharaya

Concerns persist for the remaining single Elephant, a female known as Kumari, kept at the Kande Viharaya Temple. These concerns result from multiple reports and publicly available photographic evidence of Kumari being utilised in noisy religious and culturalparades, during hot weather, being chained with spiked shackles, standing for long periods of time often in her own urine and faeces, being utilised for rides and as selfie-props.

According to reports from eye-witnesses, local mahouts have used bullhooks in the Elephants’ eyes and on wounds to enhance dominance and control. Elephants at this Temple have been recorded as having purulent wounds, cracked and infected nails and visible scars and abscesses. There is seemingly an absence of proper veterinary care, therapy or pain relief. 

Kande Viharaya Buddhist Temple is positively rated on TripAdvisor’s website and images showcase Kumari while kept chained on concrete, away from any other Elephant. She is utilised as a prop for visitors to take photographs or for Elephant rides.  

There is overwhelming scientific evidence about Elephants’ intelligence, complex cognitive capabilities and sentience,  social needs[1], display of empathy and concern for others[2], self-determination[3]self-recognition and self-awareness. 

All Elephants require the opportunity to access expansive, diverse habitats in order to traverse long distances and exercise individual autonomy and socialization. Failure to meet these needs inevitably leads to health deterioration. The development of stereotypic behaviours generally reflects a welfare-compromised environment. 

Stereotypic behaviour, the invariant restrictive and purposeless repetition of motor patterns[4], remains the most widely used welfare indicator[5] for Elephants in poor welfare conditions, exposed to psychological stress that had direct physiological consequences on the body’s ability to function.[6] This includes neural dysfunctions, brain damage and compromised survivorship.[7]

PREN members acknowledge TA’s efforts to achieve best practices. The TA Animal Welfare Policy could make a greater difference to wild animals utilised in the tourism industry if the institutions where these guidelines are not respected are effectively penalised.

TA could further promote positive change for wild animals utilised in the tourism industry, by setting higher standards and by persuading countries with inadequate animal welfare policies to introduce regulations for the protection and compassionate treatment of those animals. 

We would appreciate your considered response to this communication.  We are available and welcome the opportunity you have offered, to engage further on this important subject matter.  

Members of PREN could form a working group of experts in order to engage with TA specialists on a Zoom forum, as you kindly suggested.  


The correspondence between PREN and TripAdvisor is supported by the members of PREN who signed the letter, a copy of which is hereby attached.

Image Credit:
https://www.dailymirror.lk/print/front_page/Muthu-Raja-getting-ready-to-leave-for-Thailand/238-262053

©PREN 2023. All Rights Reserved.

CHARLIE’S EVACUATION AND RETIREMENT FROM THE NATIONAL ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS IN SOUTH AFRICA

The EMS Foundation and Shambala Private Game Reserve have announced that they have jointly submitted an “Expression of Interest” as requested by South African Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy and the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Members of the Pro Elephant Network have supported the negotiation process initiated by the EMS Foundation with Minister Barbara Creecy since December 2020.

©Pro Elephant Network 2023. All Rights Reserved.

©Image Credit EMS Foundation February 2023.

REPATRIATION OF ELEPHANT SAK SURIN TO PERMANENT RETIREMENT IN THAILAND

The Thai Royal family gifted three Elephants, including Sak Surin, to Sri Lanka, in 2001, in order for the Elephants to be trained and perform Buddhist religious rituals. Sak Surin was then renamed and is known in Sri Lanka as Muthu Raja

The members of PREN applaud the difficult decision taken by the Government of Thailand to lead the repatriation of Sak Surin from the Kande Viharaya Buddhist Temple in the Kalutara District of Sri Lanka, following concerns relating to his mistreatment. Thai authorities had to embark on a logistically, financially and politically challenging project to safely return the Elephant to Thailand.

The four-tonne male Elephant’s rehabilitation will include the treatment of his extensive injuries including abscesses, wounds and scars, which are an indication of prolonged abuse and neglect.

Elephants are large-brained mammals who display complex cognitive capabilities, and sentience, and demonstrate social needs1, empathy2, and determination3.

The Asian Elephant is able to use tools4 and, together with only a few other non-human species, such as some great apes, dolphins, rays and the Eurasian magpie, passed the mirror test, proving self-recognition abilities and a sense of self-awareness.

When males come into their annual musth cycle, their testosterone levels rise steeply making them more aggressive; all attempts to manage captive males during this process through isolation, separation and confinement, impact their welfare.

All Elephants require access to expansive, diverse habitats and move across long distances.5 They also need to be provided with opportunities for individual autonomy and socialization. These essential needs typically cannot be met in captive environments, leading to health deterioration and stereotypic behaviours reflecting the welfare-compromised environment. Stereotypic behaviour, the invariant restrictive and purposeless repetition of motor patterns6, remains the most widely used welfare indicator7 for captive Elephants in poor welfare conditions exposed to psychological stress and has direct physiological consequences on the body’s ability to function.8 This includes neural dysfunctions, brain damage and compromised survivorship.9

Extensive research highlights how Elephants can suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and refers to how humans and elephants share the parts of the brain that are susceptible to trauma and the connections between the right prefrontal cortex and the limbic system and how this influences and can compromise individual’s ability to regulate stress and emotions. Research also refers to“hyperarousal” or the inability to respond adequately, which could manifest as depression and severe agoraphobia, or on the other hand, “hyperarousal”, which is hyper-vigilance, such as, for example, in

Elephants, when they charge with no provocation, or, in captivity, when they react aggressively even if there is no actual danger.

The extraordinary efforts to repatriate Sak Surin are highly commended by all the members of PREN, as well as the decision by the Thai authorities to stop sending Elephants abroad.

Reports by Elephant experts, including members of PREN, illustrate that the population of captive Elephants in Thailand in the tourism industry has increased steeply since the use of Elephants in the logging industry was banned. Microchipping and a better-maintained Elephant database are important tools to prevent the laundering of wild Elephants into captivity; nevertheless, the illegal capture and movement of live Elephants across the Myanmar-Thai border for use in tourism continue to be an issue, and the captive breeding of Elephants continues to lead to an increase in the captive Elephant population used for commercial purposes.

The negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global tourism industry presented huge challenges for Thailand and clearly demonstrated that this new industry is unsustainable in times of crisis and a liability to the well-being of Elephants relying on profits from tourism. Some camps struggled to feed and care for the Elephants, leaving many isolated and starving.

Also, a growing number of global travel companies are changing their excursion offers to exclude facilities that offer Elephant riding and Elephant shows, and are instead prioritising wildlife-watching experiences or observation-only experiences of captive Elephants. Thailand’s captive population of Elephants needs to be carefully managed as increasing numbers of captive Elephants compete for scarce resources, such as limited food for the Elephants, fragmented land use and reduced availability of skilled labour in mahouts; in addition, an increased dependency on income from tourists has led to a lower quality of care.

The global trend away from the utilisation of Elephants in tourism will negatively affect the mahouts. An unpublished study by Chiang Mai University has shown that over one-third of the mahouts have no life savings and depend on a minimum wage job while bearing significant risks of serious and sometimes fatal injuries. Efforts need to be focussed on providing alternative livelihood opportunities for people who currently rely on the exploitation of captive Elephants.

IVORY

Sak Surin, one of the three Elephants donated, grew to become a large tusker. Most male Asian Elephants have tusks, Sak Surin developed extremely large tusks which reach the ground when the Elephant walks. Such tuskers are prized for their ivory. The members of PREN recommend that the authorities take all precautions to make sure that Sak Surin/ Muthu Raja is not exploited for his exceptional features.

Please find a copy of the correspondence between the undersigned Members of the Pro Elephant Network and the Honourable Minister Varawut Silpa-archa, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Thailand:

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Image Credit:
https://www.pattayamail.com/thailandnews/thai-elephant-sak-surin-to-receive-welcoming-ceremony-after-completion-of-30-day-quarantine-436983

©PREN 2023. All Rights Reserved.

URGENT REQUEST FOR INFORMATION ON THE STATUS OF THE NAMIBIAN ELEPHANTS IN THE UAE

The controversial and highly irregular import of twenty-two wild-caught Namibian Desert Elephants into permanent captivity to two zoos in the United Arab Emirates is a clear example of lax CITES enforcement. The current status all these Elephants is unknown.

Since December 2020 when the sale of these Elephants was announced the Members of PREN have repeatedly attempted to engage with the Namibian CITES authorities as well as the CITES Secretariat in an attempt to prevent the capture of these Elephants.

CITES authorities have had every opporuntiyt and have been provided with sufficient evidence to stop the sale and capture of the wild rare desert-adapted Elephants in Namibia. The CITES Secretary General, Chair of the Standing Committee and Chair of the Animals Committee were provided with detailed information which could have used to prevent the Elephants from being exported from Namibia and imported into the UAE.

READ THE FULL LETTER addressed to the Head of CITES in the UAE, the CITES Secretary General, the CITES Legal Officer, Chair of the CITES Standing Committee, Director General of the Al Ain Zoo, Operations Manager for Animals at Sharjah Safari Park, Executive Office of EAZA and IUCN African elephant Specialist Group:

©Pro Elephant Network 2023. All Rights Removed.