Elephant Specialist Advisory Group Statement on relocation of Swazi Elephants
Marion Garai
20 November 2015


Statement re the proposed sale and transfer of 18 elephants from Swaziland to three Zoos in the USA.

Swaziland Big Game Parks and three Zoos in the USA have applied for export and import permits to send 15 elephants from Mkhaya Game Reserve and Hlane Royal National Park to three non-profit zoos in the USA:

Dallas Zoo, Texas: 1.4 (one male, four females) Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Nebraska: 1.4 (one male, four females) and Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita: 2.3 (two males, three females)

The above numbers apply to the permit application, but in the mean time they have decided to send 18 elephants: including 3 adult females reportedly between 20 -25 years (one for each zoo) with the 15 younger elephants under the age of 12 years. Each zoo therefore, is to receive 6 elephants.

Origin and Situation of the Swaziland elephants

The first few elephants were introduced to Mkhaya in 1986 and then Hlane in 1987 (originating from the culling operations) from the Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa. In 1994 Swaziland imported a further 19 orphaned elephants from KNP. Seven were sent to Hlane, 12 to Mkhaya. Since then the population number has risen to a total of 35-39 elephants. According to the permit application none of the young elephants are over 12 years old (although the USFWS Federal Register states that the 3 males are sub-adult, but no ages are given; they are therefore all born in Swaziland. Who the three adult females are and where they were born is not mentioned in the permit application. Logic indicates, however, that they must have been from the 1994 import and culling operations in Kruger NP.

In Hlane the elephants are restricted to a 6000 ha enclosure within the larger 14200 ha National Park. It stands to reason that the area is too small for the elephants and that the habitat is being heavily utilised. Why has the entire Park not been utilised?

As means of population control, BGP has implemented vasectomies on seven adult bulls but have not implemented an immunocontraception programme on the females. The objective according to the Permit application is to reduce the number of elephants to 10 -16 individuals with a 0 % growth rate through further vasectomies.

CITES has a process called National Legislation Process (started 1992 COP8, Rev. COP 15) to assist Parties to CITES to adopt effective and enforceable legislation, essential for achieving compliance. In this process there are 3 categories. Swaziland has been placed into the worst category 3, which states: “legislation that is believed generally not to meet the requirements for the implementation of CITES. Swaziland belongs to the 21% of parties that are categorized in Category 3. As of May 2015 this was still the case. At COP 16 a set of decisions was made, one of which stipulates that Parties that fail to adopt appropriate measures for the effective implementation of CITES will be suspended from commercial trade. Under this scenario one wonders who it is possible that Swaziland would receive a CITES permit for export to zoos, which of course are commercial operations.

Points to consider:

1) The IUCN/African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) issued a statement in December 2003 stating “Believing there to be no direct benefit for in situ conservation of African elephants, the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission does not endorse the removal of African elephants from the wild for any captive use.” Therefore the intended transfer to the USA zoos is in direct conflict with this.

2) It has been established that the welfare of elephants in captivity is compromised, as the social, physical and cognitive needs cannot be adequately met (Clubb & Mason 2002; Clubb et al. 2008).

3) The aim of all three zoos is allegedly to create breeding groups with these imported elephants. It is therefore important to know the status of kinship between the proposed elephants, to ensure that related elephants do not breed. Nowhere does the permit application give any details of exact age and relationship of the proposed elephants.

We would like to emphasise that only very few captive facilities provide adequate conditions for natural breeding of African elephants and breeding is very infrequent in African elephant zoo groups so far. Thus, the suggested aim and alleged conservation benefits of this importation are highly questionable.

4) The permit application does not state if any of the three adult females are being translocated with their offspring. Although (as mentioned above) the three adult females might have originated from SA, suggesting this would be their second translocation, if they are the mothers of any of the juveniles then this must take absolute priority, as mothers and daughters must never be separated.

This would also have to apply if the elephants were to be translocated to South Africa.

Given the age of the 15 younger elephants (under 12 years) and the fact that 5 are to be sent to each zoo, it stands to reason that they cannot all be the offspring of the three adult females accordingly.

There is no mention of any family relationship and therefore one may assume that the elephants are largely unrelated. This implies that family groups are being split.

According to South African legislation (N & S) this is not permitted, whether this is permitted under Swaziland regulation is not mentioned. However, splitting up of familiar bonds is known to be highly cruel and traumatic to elephants – in those that are sent as well an in those that remain behind.

Evidence has shown that trauma remains imbedded in the elephant brain for life (Bradshaw 2004; Bradshaw 2009; Bradshaw & Schore 2007). Although the juveniles will most probably know each other, it appears that they will not have their entire families, or their mothers with them. This is deeply unethical and will cause severe trauma, which can have life-long manifestations. European

Zoos have recognised that young elephants must be translocated with their family, or at least their mother. “Encourage development of matriarchal family units including female offspring, and keep these units intact.” (EAZA Elephant TAG, 2004).

The WAZA (World Association of Zoos & Aquariums) World Zoo Conservation Strategy specifically states that obtaining animals from the wild is legitimate provided such acquisitions will not have a deleterious effect upon the wild population (section 4). The remaining elephants that have lost their young will be traumatised and this will have a deleterious effect on them. Removing elephants from their family groups should be a thing of the past.

5) The permit application states that Swazi legislation does not allow translocation to other range states. As far as we know there are no Elephant Norms & Standards in Swaziland. According to the South African Elephant Norms & Standards (2008, Government Gazette No 30833, section 12 (1), page 18 -19), importation to South Africa is permitted provided a number of conditions are met, namely that the elephants may not be kept in captivity, may not be translocated a second time, and they must not have a history of previous damage to property, crops or fence breakage. There is no evidence that alternative solutions – other than import to US zoos for commercial gain at the expense of conservation and welfare – have been sought.

6) According to media reports, one goal of the proposed import of further elephants is to improve the social situation of the resident elephants in 2 of the institutions. Dallas Zoo keeps 4 females aged 33 – 39 years, Sedgwick County Zoo keeps only 1 female aged 44 years. It can be predicted that these attempts will most likely fail, since in only one third of cases do non-kin elephant females in zoos form bonds with each other (Töffels & Garaї, in prep.). Furthermore, breaking of previous bonds as well as the subsequent loss of bonding partners significantly reduces chances of captive females forming new bonds.

According to a recent study (Saragusty et al. 2009) there is a 40-45% mortality rate for elephants in zoos.

The quality and networking of social relationships for the Swaziland elephants in North American zoos can be predicted to remain poor. A recent study on 276 elephants in European zoos shows that wild-born imported African females are the least socialized elephants, seldom bonding with others (Töffels & Garaї, in prep.).


Bradshaw G. A. 2004. Not by bread alone: Symbolic loss, Trauma and recovery in elephant communities. Society and Animals 12:2.

Bradshaw G. A. 2009. Elephants on the Edge. Yale University Press New Haven, London.

Bradshaw G. A. & Schore A. N. 2007. How Elephants are Opening Doors: Developmental Neuroethology, Attachment and Social Context. Ethology 113, 426-436.

Clubb R. & Mason G. 2002. A Review of the Welfare of Zoo Elephants in Europe. University of Oxford, Animal Behaviour research Group, Dep. of Zoology, Oxford.

Clubb R., Rowcliffe M., Lee Ph., Mar K. U., Moss C., Mason G. J. 2008. Compromised Survivorship in Zoo Elephants. SCIENCE Vol. 322, 1649.

EAZA Elephant TAG, 2004: Revised EAZA Elephant TAG Recommendations. In: EAZA News 47/2004, page 44. European Association of Zoos and Aquaria [Editors], EAZA Executive Office, Amsterdam 2004.

Saragusty J., Hermes R., Göritz F., Schmitt D. L. & Hildebrandt T. B. 2009. Skewed birth sex ratio and premature mortality in elephants. Animal Reproduction Science, 115:247–254

Töffels O. & Garaї M.E. SOCIAL DYNAMICS IN FEMALE AFRICAN ELEPHANTS (Loxodonta africana) IN EUROPEAN ZOOS AND SAFARI PARKS. In preparation 20 Nov 2015 Dr Marion E. Garaï Chairperson