Elephant captures & rampages spotlight habitat encroachment
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2003:
PRETORIA, NEW DELHI, NAIROBI, SAN DIEGO, BANGKOK,
COLOMBO–Pretoria Regional Court magistrate Adriaan Bekker on April 7
found African Game Services owner Riccardo Ghiazza of Brits, South
Africa, guilty of cruelty to 30 young elephants in 1998-1999. The
verdict reportedly took Bekker four hours to read.
Convicted with Ghiazza, but on just two cruelty counts, was
student elephant handler Henry Wayne Stockigt.
Charges were dismissed against another handler, Craig
Saunders, and another company, African Game Properties Inc.
Captured in the Tuli district of Botswana during July 1998,
the elephants were transported to Brits for training and sale to
Global outrage erupted first over the separation of the
elephants from their mothers, and then over alleged rough treatment
of the elephants by trainers hired from Indonesia. The South African
National SPCA began the long effort to convict Ghiazza after
videotape surfaced that reportedly showed Stockigt and others beating
the chained elephants.
Ghizza, a major supplier of African wildlife to zoos in
China, apparently intended to sell some or all of the elephants to
China. None are known to have actually gone there. Instead,
according to the South Africa-based Wildlife Action Group, nine went
to the Marakele Game Reserve in South Africa; nine went to the
Sandhurt Safaris hunting lodge in North West Province; seven are
held in controversial conditions at the Dresden Zoo, in Germany;
and five were sold to former co-defendant Saunders.
The “Tuli elephants case,” as the episode became known, was
instrumental in rallying protest against the conventional practices
of wild elephant capture and training. It spotlighted an increasing
dilemma throughout the range of both African and Asian elephants,
afflicting both the wild and captive populations: what to do about
overcrowded or displaced elephants in a world which allows them only
limited wild habitat.
The Ghiazza conviction came amid a new worldwide furor over
the prolonged suffering and death of an Indian elephant captured on
February 5 in Chattisgarh state by the noted female mahout Parbati
Wrote Alex Kirby of BBC News Online, “Witnesses say the
elephant was repeatedly jabbed with spikes and struck with bamboo
canes,” after being run to exhaustion, tranquilized, and dragged
between two tame elephants. “His legs were tied,” Kirby continued,
as was the elephant’s head. “Then his tusks were sawn off. He was
left without food and water, and died 18 days later, apparently of
stress, starvation, and thirst.”
Videographers Mike Pandey and Amalendu Mishra documented the
suffering of the elephant. The International Fund for Animal Welfare
and the Wildlife Trust of India distributed the video to news media.
People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi demanded that Barua be
“The acts of Barua were not negligent but deliberate,” Ms.
Gandhi noted. “Under the circumstances, a clear case has been
established. Barua has committed an act of hunting that is
punishable by imprisonment for not less then three years and which
may extend up to seven years,” Ms. Gandhi added.
A federal investigation of the episode began on April 16.
The elephant was among a trio who had allegedly killed 33
people since September 2001. According to some accounts the
elephants had learned to abscond when wardens hunting them with guns
begin to pray for forgiveness before lining up their shots.
Chattisgarh chief wildlife warden Anup Bhalla had authorized
capturing all three of the elephants in lieu of killing them, but
after the controversy over the death of the first elephant captured
blew up in late March he ordered that the other pair should be shot.
The much disputed options for wild elephants include
expanding their habitat; allowing trophy hunters to shoot them;
culling them for ivory and hides; trying to chemically control their
births; capturing them for exhibition; and training them for work.
Habitat expansion is costlier than most of the governments
which have wild elephants could fund without enormous outside
support, and is often politically unfeasible anyway, since
elephants’ habitat is shrinking in the first place because of human
encroachment on their existing reserves.
In some regions the encroachment has actually resulted from
the success of elephant-focused tourism, creating jobs for lodge
staff and safari drivers, who bring their families to villages on
the fringes of wildlife reserves that eventually boom into small
In other places, the elephant population was poached to
abnormally low numbers during the 1980s, allowing farmers and
herders to take over temporarily vacated habitat, especially in
migration corridors close to water sources, that the elephants are
now trying to reclaim–with frequently catastrophic consequences for
The Nation, of Kenya, reported on March 26 that rampaging
elephants kept villagers in Tetu, Nyeri District, from saving a
three-year-old boy from a dawn housefire. The elephants then smashed
three local schools, just as classes were starting, and critically
injured three villagers during a six-hour confrontation that
apparently resulted from a botched attempt to chase them back into
the forest. Police finally shot several elephants.
Repeated elephant forays out of Tsavo East National Park
meanwhile put 20,000 people at risk of starvation in Kilifi District,
due to crop losses, The Nation said.
Reports of similar damage have recently reached ANIMAL PEOPLE
from Indonesia and Malaysia.
“Fear of being crushed by wild elephants is driving pregnant
women in Dumka, Jharkand to give birth on platforms built in
treetops,” the Deccan Herald of Mysore, India reported on April 1.
The account might have been dismissed as an April Fool, except that
approximately 150 people have been killed by elephants in Jharkand
since November 2000, including a young woman who was trampled on
Similar problems are anticipated in Sri Lanka, as a 12-year
civil war subsides. At least 1,369 elephants were killed during the
fighting, many of them poached by rebels who allegedly traded ivory
for weapons. Anti-poaching law enforcement in the northern half of
Sri Lanka virtually ceased after 1990, and formerly protected
elephant migration corridors were extensively encroached. Attempting
to reopen the corridors by evicting the people could spark resumed
Sri Lankan newspapers are full of schemes to deal with the
problem by diverting the recovering elephant population into zoos,
sanctuaries, the export trade, and national parks redeveloped to
Whether any of the ideas will work is a matter of
speculation. But there seems to be little chance that elephants will
regain much of the habitat they have lost, much to the distress of
Kala Santha, DVM, the Sri Lankan animal advocate who brought the
controversy to the attention of ANIMAL PEOPLE. Santha fears that
surplus Sri Lankan elephants will either be exported or be reduced to
servitude like the working elephants of Jaipur, India, whom she has
helped to treat at clinics organized by Help In Suffering.
Since people vote and elephants don’t, human interests tend
to take precedence even where the laws are on the elephants’ side.
Trophy hunting and culling surplus elephants, practiced in
South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, can be lucrative
for those who control the trade, but for the second time in six
years there is increasing evidence that allowing any legal
international commerce in elephant parts tends to stimulate poaching,
as traffickers use the legal trade as cover.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
banned international sales of ivory in 1989, but allowed Botswana,
Namibia, and Zimbabwe to sell some of their stocks of culled and
confiscated ivory in 1997. As the vote approached, ivory poaching
in Asia, other parts of Africa, and along the border between
Zimbabwe and Zambia reportedly was more intensive than it had been in
After the poaching outburst appeared to have subsided, CITES
in early 2002 began considering allowing the same nations plus South
Africa to sell more stockpiled ivory. Poaching again markedly
increased, as shown by the February 2003 seizure of 33 tusks from
five alleged poachers in northern Kenya, and by the March 25
massacre of a seven-member elephant family in Queen Elizabeth
National Park, Uganda–the first known instance of ivory poaching in
Uganda since 2000.
Elephant birth control experiments have had some reported
success, after initial failures, but the technique is still in
develop ment and the concept is not widely accepted yet, especially
by politicians, hunters, and some international conservation groups
who see elephants as a “sustainable resource.”
Capturing elephants for exhibition abroad runs afoul of
opponents of elephant captivity, even though there is growing demand
among zoos for healthy young elephants to replenish the fast
dwindling number who were captured and exported from Asia and Africa
before the 1972 adoption of CITES and, in the U.S., the 1973 passage
of the Endangered Species Act, which effectively ended imports of
most listed species.
Captive breeding programs have not produced new zoo and
circus elephants at even a fraction of the captive elephant death
rate. Although the life expectancy of an adult zoo elephant is now
as long or longer than life expectancy in the wild, the increasing
proportion of geriatric elephants among the zoo and circus herd hints
that the death rate will only rise if more elephants are not imported.
Walt Disney Inc. in 1996 considered importing a herd of
elephants from South Africa who were otherwise slated for culling,
but dropped the idea after the International Fund for Animal Welfare
bought additional land for elephant habitat on the promise of the
South African government that the elephants would be spared.
No further attempts to import elephants were made until 2002,
when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the San Diego Zoo
and the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa to obtain 11 elephants from
Swaziland, including six females of breeding age. Swaziland
officials said the elephants would otherwise be culled. San Diego
Zoo spokesperson Christina Simmons told Catherine Ivey of Associated
Press that Swaziland would be given “several million dollars” for
As of early April 2003 the elephants were in holding pens
awaiting transfer, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
and other activist groups were pursuing legal action in hopes of
blocking the deal.
Keeping them home
Capturing elephants for either exhibition or work in their
own nations is a non-starter. Prasanta Paul of the Deccan Herald
News Service reported on March 19 that the West Bengal forest
department is hoping to raise funds by selling 26 elephants to Indian
zoos, but even if the zoos had the money to purchase the elephants,
there are already more captive elephants in Asia than anyone knows
what to do with–most of them trained for logging or carrying
tourists, but out of work due to the advent of tractors and the
global tourism slump resulting from the U.S. recession and fears of
The Thai cabinet on March 11 approved a scheme to employ as
forest guards an estimated 200 elephants who have been illegally
roaming Bangkok. Proposed by King Bhumibol Aduladej in his 2002
birthday speech, the idea outraged the volunteers who now patrol the
Thai national forests for an allowance of a fifth as much as the
elephants and their mahouts will get–but the elephants have markedly
greater food needs.
Elephants whose mahouts bring them back to Bangkok are to be
seized, if the recommendations of the Friends of the Asian Elephant
Foundation for implementing the king’s idea are followed. Bangkok
officials, however, say they do not have the budget, staff, or
impound facilities to seize elephants, which is part of why so many
are at large in the city despite previous expulsion orders.
Elephant captures continue in Thailand, and elsewhere in
Asia not because there is market demand for the elephants, but
rather because, as brutal as the captures and subsequent training
tend to be, there is widespread opposition to killing even the most
problematic elephants wherever there exists either a tradition of
worshipping Ganesh, the half-elephant Hindu god in charge of placing
or removing obstacles, or of practicing Buddhism. The symbol of
Buddha was a white elephant, whose name in the U.S. is synonymous
with being an unwanted gift.