The plight of nine elephants in Zimbabwe has brought back into the spotlight the abuse of these huge mammals in the safari industry.
The latest incident is one of several in which tour operators are accused of catching wild elephants to train for a variety of purposes.
Animal groups and the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals said they have had an uphill battle against such operators who ‘tame” wild elephants.
An inspection in April by the society found cruel and torturous methods were being used to ‘tame and train” the mammals for the elephant-back safari industry—a popular tourist activity in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Southern Africa.
The society said originally 10 wild elephants were held at Sondelani Ranch estate near Bulawayo, where they were being ‘trained”. One of the 10 elephants confiscated has since died.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) will relocate the remaining nine elephants to Hwange National Park this week.
Hwange is about 700km further east. Ifaw will help to rehabilitate the elephants before releasing them back into the wild.
‘These elephants have been subjected to the most appalling cruelty, all in the name of servicing an indefensible form of safari industry,” said Neil Greenwood, spokesperson for Ifaw Southern Africa.
‘Ten elephants were originally caught for training. Tragically one—a young male named Dumisani—died of malnutrition and the abuse he was subjected to. Given all of this, Ifaw has assembled a top team of capture experts to translocate the remaining nine elephants to safety with the least possible stress.”
The wild elephants were originally caught on protected land in October 2008.
When the society inspected the training facility in April, it discovered elephants chained by one leg and being fed from a distance, requiring them to stand on three legs and strain the chains as they reached for food.
This practice was intended to enforce the dominance of the handlers and caused severe wounds to the chained legs, Ifaw said.
The animals also had restricted access to water and shade. A baby elephant was found living separately from its mother.