The Johannesburg Zoo argues that keeping an example of the species has educational benefits. (Anthony Schultz/M&G)
The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) has announced it will be taking legal action against the Johannesburg Zoo, following the zoo’s decision to obtain a second elephant to be introduced into its elephant enclosure.
There is currently one female elephant, Lammie, living in the enclosure. Lammie has been alone in her enclosure since September last year when her partner of 17 years, Kinkel, died. Lammie has lived in the Johannesburg Zoo for 39 years, her entire life.
“The NSPCA has addressed a legal communication to the Johannesburg Zoo, informing them that if they are to move forward with obtaining another elephant, the NSPCA would launch an application in the High Court to interdict such action,” the NSPCA said in a statement on Thursday.
Animal protection organisation Humane Society International has been calling for Johannesburg Zoo to rehome the elephant to a suitable sanctuary since 2018.
Karen Trendler, NSPCA Trade & Trafficking portfolio manager said keeping elephants in captivity presents challenges.
“International standards outline the need for replicating the physical and social norms of elephants to ensure that their welfare is cared for as far as possible in captivity.”
According to Elephant Voices, an organisation focused on elephant behavioural research, “elephants are well-known for their intelligence, close family ties and social complexity, and they remember for years other individuals and places.”
Elephants in the wild live in herds of up to 70. According to Trendler, a minimum of four elephants per enclosure would be needed to simulate normal social interaction.
“If the Joburg Zoo acquires another elephant, when one of the two of them dies the cycle of replacement will be perpetuated,” she says.
This would also mean another captive elephant would have to be uprooted to be brought to the zoo.
“This elephant would have to be captive, and would likely have to be removed from a bonded group. Not only that, but there is no guarantee that the elephants would get along with one another,” said Trendler.
Brett Mitchell of the Elephant Reintegration Trust says the welfare at the Johannesburg Zoo is poor, and not up to international standards.He believes it would benefit the zoo to release Lammie, as it would be a positive step and in line with international trends.
With the recognition that elephants in zoos cannot be adequately housed in captivity, a significant number of zoos around the world have closed or phased out their elephant exhibits, including all zoos in India, more than twenty in the United States and at least five in the United Kingdom according to animal rights organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). Additionally, Mitchell says 37 zoos in Europe have closed their elephant exhibits.
According to Trendler, the Johannesburg Zoo argues that keeping an example of the species has educational benefits.
“We understand the role of captive animals in education, but we question the value of people viewing this elephant in isolation who, as a result of her environment, is not displaying normal behaviour.”
“There is no education in watching her stand with her head against the wall for hours every day,” says Mitchell.
The Johannesburg Zoo could not be reached for comment at the time of publishing.