Knysna Elephant Park will be prosecuted
Melissas Reitz
27 July 2016

Knysna Elephant Park owners will face charges for animal cruelty despite an initial decision to decline prosecution 


The NSPCA has announced that the National Director of Public Prosecutions will prosecute the owners of the Knysna Elephant Park and Elephants of Eden for cruelty offences, despite an initial decision by Grahamstown Director of Public Prosecution to decline the prosecution.

“I have decided that Lisette Withers and four others should be prosecuted for contravening the Animals Protection Act,” said National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate S.K. Abrahams.

Criminal charges were laid two years ago after the NSPCA received video footage depicting cruel and abusive training methods used on the elephants at the Withers’ Eastern Cape facility, Elephants of Eden, near Alexandria.

The visuals showed elephant calves and juvenile elephants being chained, roped, shocked and hit with bull hooks in order to enforce submission to their trainers.

“The elephants show signs of crippling injuries with severely swollen legs and feet, debilitating abscesses and wounds resulting from the abusive use of ropes, chains, and bull hooks,” said NSPCA Senior Inspector, Wendy Willson, in a statement referring to the footage.

Grahamstown DPP, Advocate J.C. Coetzee declared the evidence insufficient in November last year, saying he was not persuaded that the elephants at the Elephants of Eden had suffered unnecessarily and that the training methods used could be constituted as cruel treatment. But welfare and elephant experts did not accept this saying the legal definition of cruelty needs to be relooked at.

“If the prosecutor could not find cruelty in the evidence, then we need to redefine “cruel” in our laws to reflect a contemporary understanding of what forms cruelty can take,” said Dr Mandy Lombard, of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group.

Refusing to accept the decision the NSPCA took the case to the National Prosecution Authority who agreed to relook at the evidence which they found sufficient for prosecution.

“It is important that this case is heard, tried and concluded through our judicial system so that once and for all, there can be clear parameters of what is – and what is not – acceptable with regard to training methods and also in the tourism industry,” says NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit Isabel Wentzel.

“Our years of advocacy, investigation and placing before the public the truth behind elephant rides or elephant-back safaris are now being rewarded through public awareness, pressure and impact.”

With a growing awareness of the cruelty associated with training elephants for riding an increasing number of tour companies both locally and internationally are no longer promoting elephant back riding, including Thompson Safari and Harvey World Travel.

The NSPCA has laid further charges against Withers for the illegal removal of four wild elephant calves from Sandhurst Safaris in the North West Province, which are now kept at the Knysna Elephant Park.

The cruelty case will be heard in a regional court and if found guilty Withers could face a fine of up to R300 000 and the possible loss of her licence to operate the elephant facilities.

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