Director General Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Gopal Prakash Bhattarai
Honourable Minister of Forests and Environment Shakti Bahadur Basnet
Honourable Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai
Nepal Tourism Board
NEPAL ELEPHANT POLO TOURNAMENT
Recent news about the organization of an Elephant polo tournament in Nepal has drawn our attention and concern. The undersigned international Elephant experts representing various fields respectfully ask that you stop this year’s Elephant Polo event and ensure such activities will be discontinued in the future. The reasons for our concerns are as follows:
Indian Rulers (Aristocrats) and Western colonists established Elephant Polo in the early 20th century as a form of entertainment. The game was introduced in Nepal in 1982 as a way to increase tourism. In the game, nine Elephants (4 from one side, 4 from another side, and one referee), are each ridden by a mahout and a player. The mahout forces the Elephant to run after the ball, threatening pain and punishment if the Elephant does not respond accordingly.
Elephant Polo has been permanently discontinued in Thailand and Sri Lanka following exposure of abusive treatment prior to and during the event. The official Elephant Polo games held in Nepal and hosted by Tiger Tops were discontinued in 2017.
In December 2018 an Elephant polo tournament was held in Sauraha, drawing international criticism and exposing the abusive treatment of the Elephants. Despite this, the Elephant owners are now contemplating another Elephant Polo game.
ADDRESSED TO: SHRI NARENDRA MODI, PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA, SHRI PRAKASH JAVADEKAR, MINISTER FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOREST AND CLIMATE CHANGE, SHRI SIDDHANTA DAS IFS, DIRECTOR GENERAL OFFOREST AND SPECIAL SECRETARY MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT, FOREST AND CLIMATE CHANGE, SHRI NOYAL THOMAS IFS, INSPECTOR GENERALOF FORESTS MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT, FOREST AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Pro Elephants Network (PREN) is a global community of elephant experts, elephant protection organisations and academics that embraces expertise from a wide variety of disciplines including the fields of science, conservation, animal welfare, non-human rights, advocacy, business, economics, social justice and the law. As Members of this group, we are deeply concerned about elephant welfare and the practice of capturing wild elephants for captivity.
We call on the Prime Minister and Government of India to stop the transfer of four juvenile elephants from Tinsukia, Upper Assam, to the Jagganath Temple at Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
We make this very urgent request based on the following:
• The elephants — Rupsing, Joymati, Babulal and Rani – are suspected to have been illegally taken from the wild. For three of the elephants, there is no record of them being captive born until December 30, 2018. One male juvenile has a bullet injury on his left foreleg, suggesting violent capture.
• The Jagganath Temple reportedly lacks adequate infrastructure and management for the elephants currently in their care. Reports and photo documentation shared by concerned members of the public show the elephants begging and used for wedding processions.1
• The elephants would be taken from their natural home range and forced to live in a very different climate in Gujarat, which is extremely hot and offers little access to water. Elephants require a large amount of water for their health and well-being, including access to water for daily bathing.
• In captivity the young elephants’ physical, psychological, and social needs cannot be sufficiently met, which will cause poor health, mental distress, and lifelong suffering.2 Under current law, as captives these elephants would have virtually no protection against neglect, overwork, and abuse.
As elephant specialists who are world-renowned, well-published authorities on elephant behaviour, sociality, welfare, care, and conservation, we are extremely disturbed by the actions of Zimbabwe and China with regard to live elephant trade.
At the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) held in Geneva in August this year, Parties overwhelmingly decided that the only ’Appropriate and Acceptable destination’ for live elephants exported from Zimbabwe or Botswana should be:
“in-situ conservation programmes or secure areas in the wild, within the species’ natural and historical range in Africa, except in exceptional circumstances where, in consultation with the Animals Committee, through its Chair with the support of the Secretariat, and in consultation with the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, it is considered that a transfer to ex-situ locations will provide demonstrable in-situ conservation benefits for African elephants, or in the case of temporary transfer in emergency situations.”
These amendments (Resolution. Conf. 11.20 (or Rev. CoP17) will come into effect at the end of November 2019, bringing the rules that apply to Zimbabwe and Botswana in line with other countries.
The resolution notwithstanding, in October 2019, the Zimbabwe government exported more than 30 wild-caught elephant calves that had been forcibly taken from their mothers and families over a year ago.
The operation involved elephant herds being chased to exhaustion with helicopters in Hwange National Park, with calves as young as 2-3 year-old forcibly separated from their families, captured and put into a nearby holding pen where they were kept for many months.
Despite the clear message from the international community through the CITES Resolution that such exports should end, the 32 calves were loaded onto a Saudia Cargo flight and exported via Riyadh to Shanghai, China, on 24 October 2019.
The elephants are now held in an undisclosed quarantine facility and, like previously imported calves, will most likely be sent to various facilities around the country, where they will be on display for entertainment making a total of at least 141 wild-caught elephant calves exported from Zimbabwe to ex-situ destinations since 2012.
These calves are now condemned to a lifetime of confinement far removed from their families, lacking the normal social, psychological, physical, and environmental conditions that are crucial to the wellbeing of highly intelligent animals evolved to live in a complex
social and ecological environment. Many of the calves will doubtlessly lead shortened lives; those that survive shall suffer in captivity for decades.
The conditions that the captured and exported elephants face are inhumane, cruel and unjust. The forcible capture and removal of wild elephants from their home ranges and social groups is archaic and unethical, and these exports offer no conservation benefits.
Published research shows that bringing elephants into zoos profoundly impacts their physical and psychological health and viability. Elephants adapt poorly to life in captive facilities. They have shorter lifespans and they breed poorly, if at all, in captivity. The overall infant mortality rate for elephants in zoos is a staggering 40 percent, nearly triple the rate of free-ranging Asian and African elephants.
Elephants are long-lived, social, intelligent animals who live in complex societies with extremely large social networks. They have the largest absolute brain size of any land animal. Neurological, behavioural, and cognitive studies have shown that elephants share characteristics of human brains and behaviour, displaying empathy, problem solving, emotional learning, autonomous thinking, planning and decision-making, self-awareness and self-control. As with humans, elephants have long-term memory and cognitive flexibility, and scientists have observed over 300 different behaviours, most of which involve gestural or acoustic signals of communication.
Young elephants are highly dependent for up to 15 years on their mothers and other family members for protection and learning of necessary social and behavioural skills. The disruption of their social bonds is physically and psychologically traumatic for both the calves and remaining family members. The trauma of attack, family separation, trans-continental shipping, and subsequent cruel training techniques has life-long impacts on the psyche and behaviour of affected individuals and their offspring.
AN OPEN LETTER DATED 11TH NOVEMBER 2019, ADDRESSED TO: THE PRESIDENT OF ZIMBABWE, PRESIDENT OF CHINA, PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN AND THE SECRETARIAT OF CITES:
His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa President of Zimbabwe
His Excellency XiPresident of People’s Republic of China
His Excellency Imran Khan Prime Minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan
The Secretariat of CITES,
In light of the disturbing recent captures and exports of wild African elephants from Zimbabwe for display in zoos and circuses in China, twenty-two professionals1 in elephant protection, science, and care have called for an immediate end to the live trade in wild-caught elephants. At least 141 wild-caught elephant calves have been exported from Zimbabwe to ex-situ destinations since 2012, primarily to China.
In the wild, elephants are long-lived, social, and intelligent animals2 who live in complex societies with vast social networks. Young elephants are highly dependent on their mothers and other family members for protection and to learn necessary social and behavioural skills, with African males only leaving their family group at 12 to 15 years old and females remaining for life. Any disruption to the elephants’ social bonds is physically and psychologically traumatic for adults and calves alike.
The recently exported Zimbabwean calves have been subjected to severe trauma at two levels. Firstly, the trauma of being removed from their natal herd. Secondly, after being together for nearly a year, the trauma of being split from their captured group and sent to different facilities. This second event may be even more severe because of the calves already compromised physical and emotional well-being. Once individuals have forged strong friendships and found comfort in each other, their forced separation can result in cumulative, life-long impacts on their psyche and behaviour. In fact, the captured Zimbabwean calves are certain to experience long-term adverse effects on their health and welfare as they grow up lacking the normal social, psychological, physical, and environmental conditions that are crucial to the wellbeing of these complex and highly intelligent animals.
The forcible capture and removal of wild elephants from their home ranges and social groups is archaic and unethical, and their export offers no conservation benefits3,4. Elephants adapt poorly to life in captive facilities, where they have shorter lifespans5 and breed poorly, if at all6. Research shows that the viability of elephants is profoundly impaired when brought into zoos, where infanticide, infectious diseases, abnormal repetitive behaviors, infertility, and chronic (and ultimately lethal) foot and joint disorders are prevalent.
The Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA) has been denied access to the country’s captive elephants, reportedly about to be sent to captive facilities in China. This suggests that welfare concerns are being ignored. The ZNSCPA is constitutionally permitted to access any part of the country if they suspect cruelty to animals. An urgent chamber application for access is likely to be submitted today.
A letter has been delivered by hand to the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, urging the Chinese president to halt the reportedly imminent import of 33 captive elephants from Zimbabwe to undisclosed captive facilities in China (word on the ground estimates that the transport will occur today or tomorrow). The letter is penned by a group of thirty-five global specialists in elephant biology, husbandry, elephant management, legal and policy analysis, economics and conservation, most of whom are based in Africa. A similar letter was hand delivered to HE Mr Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, the Zimbabwean ambassador to the UN, urging the President of Zimbabwe to stop the export.
In response to the news that a Chinese crew had arrived in Zimbabwe last week to prepare 33 baby elephants for export from Hwange National Park, Zimbabwean activists launched a last-minute bid to prevent it. After being forcibly removed from their families, the elephants have been living in captivity for nearly a year. The People and Earth Solidarity Law Network, a Zimbabwean NGO, filed a lawsuit in May 2019 that demanded details of the export deal. The case (HC4289/19) is before the courts but has not yet been heard by a judge. Their lawyers have sent a letter to the lawyers for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), stating that going ahead with the translocation “will amount to reckless disregard of the court process”.
Tinashe Farawo, a spokesperson for ZimParks, has denied that anything untoward is occurring or that the deal is secret, according to a report in the UK Telegraph. He did not, however, deny that the translocation is occurring.
Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations H.E. Mr. Ma Zhaoxu Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Permanent Representative
URGENT LETTER TO THE United Nations REGARDING IMMINENT IMPORT OF 33 YOUNG ELEPHANTS TO CHINA
We, the undersigned, are a group of thirty-five global specialists in elephant biology, husbandry, elephant management, legal and policy analysis, economics and conservation, most of whom are based in Africa.
We present our compliments to the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations and His Excellency.
We are deeply concerned about the reportedly imminent import of some 33 juvenile wild-caught elephants from Zimbabwe to captive locations in China. Our concerns are based on our understanding of elephant biology, of international agreements and national legislation as well as public sentiment within Africa and more widely.
We urgently call on the President of the People’s Republic of China to immediately suspend and ultimately cancel the plans for this import.
We would greatly appreciate it if you could urgently forward our concerns and this letter to the President and the relevant authorities for action.
China has recently made significant strides as a conservation champion, especially through its dedication to the ‘Ecological Civilisation’ programme and subsequent leadership decision to terminate domestic legal ivory markets.
Chairperson’s Summary Report and Recommendations OVERSTRAND MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM, HERMANUS, WESTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA
On 6 September 2019, the EMS Foundation, convened an international Indaba and Panel Discussion with national and international elephant behavioural specialists in Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa, to discuss the issue of elephants in captivity and to develop a framework as well as policy guidelines for dealing with elephants in captivity.
The Indaba was the first consultative gathering of elephant specialists and elephant interest groups in Africa specifically dealing with elephants in captivity, the role Africa has in sending elephants into captivity and what we need to do to get them out of the metaphorical room.
3. In order to enable frank exploration of the issues and practical proposals, the Indaba was conducted under the Chatham House Rule and with a number of “ground rules” which aimed to ensure open, respectful dialogue, and maximum participation.
The overwhelming message was that elephants belong in the wild and must be returned to the wild in all cases where this is a legitimate possibility. Given what we know about who elephants are and the conditions under which they thrive, there is no reason to keep them in captivity.
5. This Summary Report, which has been prepared by the overall Chairperson (Dr Don Pinnock) of the Indaba together with the Rapporteur (Dr Ross Harvey), provides a brief overview of the themes discussed and its outcomes, and is in no way reflective of all views articulated during the meeting.