A ground-breaking application for the release of three Elephants, held captive for public display purposes at the Johannesburg Zoo, was filed on the 20th of June 2022.
The application was brought by Cullinan and Associates, representing Animal Law Reform South Africa, EMS Foundation and Chief Stephen Fritz.
As sentient beings, Lammie, Mopane and Ramadiba are housed in an enclosure in the Johannesburg Zoo, under conditions that fail to meet even their most basic needs. Experts have confirmed that the Elephants are exhibiting psychological distress symptoms as a result of inadequate living conditions.
There is no precedent for a case like this in South Africa, calling for the release of the Elephants to a sanctuary where they could roam freely.
Lammie has been living at the Jhb Zoo for 42 years – her entire life. In 2018, her companion of 17 years, Kinkel, passed away. At the time, the NSPCA and Humane Society International called for Lammie’s release, but the Zoo Management decided to source new companions (read ‘fellow inmates’) for her, completely ignoring the public outcry.
In 2019 the zoo ignored please to #FreeLammie and introduceds two new Elephants to her captivity instead ~ Mopane and Ramadiba.
HSI/Africa’s Wildlife Director Audrey Delsink, said: “We are furious that instead of doing the right and honourable thing for Lammie by giving her freedom in a vast sanctuary with a new elephant herd, Johannesburg Zoo has forged ahead and brought two new elephants for Lammie to share what remains of her life in captivity. Such was their haste to acquire these elephants, they have done so without completing any of the expansion or renovation work they promised and ignored both public opinion and the pleas of some of the world’s most eminent elephant experts and conservationists. The Gauteng Legislature has also utterly failed to respect the wishes of the 301,652 petitioners who called for Lammie to be released. Johannesburg zoo claims it acted legally but the question is has it acted morally, and from Lammie’s point of view the answer is no. This decision denies Lammie, and the two new elephants, the chance of a decent, fulfilling life. This sorry episode has exposed the zoo authorities as lagging far behind global trends to close elephant zoo exhibits, something that 150 progressive, modern zoos have already done in recognition of the inescapable fact that such captivity cannot meet elephants’ complex physiological, psychological and social requirements. Johannesburg Zoo may well have acted on the right side of the law, but they have found themselves on the wrong side of history.”
Despite the fact that 52 zoos across Europe and North America have closed their Elephant exhibits, there are still more than 1000 Elephants held captive in zoos around the world, for human entertainment. This figure includes 22 Namibian wild-caught desert-adapted Elephants, recently sold and transported to Dubai.
Elephants are highly social, complex animals, living in structured hierarchy in the wild, normally in herds numbering around 75 individuals. They form close ties with family members, and are not able to adapt to a life that is worlds apart from how they were meant to live.
There are many cases that illustrate the results of trauma bestowed upon Elephants during capturing and culling, such as the Pilanesberg Orphans. Rescued from an indiscriminate Kruger National Park culling, the young males in this instance ended up killing Rhinos and attacking tourists, because they had no role models (no adult, experienced males) as patriarchs.
Torn from their families to be inserted into a life of forced captivity, the three Johannesburg Zoo Elephants have no access to any normal surroundings mimicking Nature; they live isolated, unnatural lives, without any enrichment and without the support and love from a normal Elephant family.
The South African Constitution makes provision for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This court application highlights the chasm between the interpretation of the law, and the physical situation that the Elephants are enduring.
Stephen Fritz, Senior Chief of the South Peninsula Customary Khoisan Council, said the legal remedy is being sought to have the elephants released to live out the remainder of their lives in a natural environment.
“Leading global Elephant experts have attested to the fact that Lammie, Mopane and Ramadiba are highly intelligent, socially complex and sentient beings who are living in conditions that are averse to their well-being, and are as a result in a state of distress.
“The conditions offered by the Johannesburg Zoo do not meet their fundamental physical, mental and emotional needs.”
Fritz said imprisoning the elephants showcases the past and the present will humiliate and disrespect South Africa’s culture and heritage.
“For many years I have felt ashamed and powerless: I am, therefore, relieved that a large number of experts and scientists have united, bringing together a wealth of knowledge to offer these Elephants a powerful defence. “
In his affidavit, Fritz argues that the manner in which the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo confine and exhibit the elephants is offensive to the culture and living heritage of the Khoi peoples, and undermines the recovery and perpetuation of their living heritage.
“Despite repeated representations and requests to release the elephants from captivity at the Johannesburg Zoo, the officials have failed or refused to do so.”
Fritz said the applicants are requesting that the court release the elephants into the care of the EMS Foundation, which will appoint relevant and qualified experts to assess the elephants and manage their relocation, rehabilitation and reintegration into a wild environment.
Both Lammie and her previous partner, Kinkel, who died at the zoo, have been injured after falling into the moat. In 2001, Lammie fell in and was reported to have “both right legs stiff” and broke her tusk, but survived. Kinkel fell into the moat in 2007 but was apparently uninjured. He died at the zoo in September last year after a long-term history of chronic colic and eating sand. He was 35 years old.
Following Kinkel’s death, Joburg Zoo stated that the elephant enclosure would be enlarged. However, no such improvements have been made.
To this day, no renovations have been implemented and Ramadiba and Mopane were added to the same small and inadequate enclosure that Lammie has endured for 39 years. Furthermore, the new elephants, though of captive origin, were in a free contact system and were able to roam the confines of their previous home. Now, they will be imprisoned in a half hectare enclosure and have to face new challenges such as the moat.
“This is a sad day for elephants, yet another two elephants are unnecessarily been subjected to a life of imprisonment due to the lack of ethical management choices made by Joburg Zoo.” said Brett Mitchell, Director of Elephant Reintegration Trust.
Humane Society International/Africa is urging South Africans to show their disapproval by refusing to visit Johannesburg Zoo and to support elephant conservation projects that only portray elephants in the wild by protecting their habitats and protecting them from the threats of poaching and exploitation.
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