Activists want zoo to release elephants from ‘human captivity’

The Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo has been dragged to court in a bid to force the entity to release three elephants from the enclosure and allow them to live in a naturally conducive environment.

Law Reform South Africa, EMS Foundation, and Stephen Fritz, a Khoi and traditional leader, brought an application at the high court in Pretoria on Monday.

The activists argue that the conditions at the Johannesburg Zoo are not pleasant for the three elephants known as Lammie, Mopane, and Ramadiba. The conditions, they allege, do not meet the elephants’ fundamental physical, mental and emotional needs.

The applicants also argue that the elephants should be released into EMS Foundation’s care, which says it will get the experts to advise on the most natural place where these animals should be released to.

David Bilchitz, Law Reform South Africa director, said the Johannesburg Zoo and the Johannesburg metropolitan municipality were not just morally wrong, but were violating legal obligations.

“By keeping these elephants in inadequate conditions, the Zoo fails to meet both its constitutional and statutory obligations to treat these animals with respect and not cause them unnecessary suffering,” said Bilchitz.

EMS Foundation executive director Michele Pickover said the elephants lived as captives at the zoo and were not exposed to a more natural environment.

“Colonialism and apartheid devastated South Africa, disrupting indigenous communities, decimating biodiversity and destroying individual lives. These elephants were cruelly separated from their families, deliberately captured by humans for a life in captivity, and experienced lifelong trauma as a result,” said Pickover.

“An elephant in a zoo is simply an exhibit, deprived of natural environment and social conditions. We are failing to teach children anything about elephants, rather forcing them into submission for the sake of so-called ‘human entertainment’.”

Pickover added: “A better exhibit would be a live link to the elephants living their real lives in a natural environment.”

Fritz said the elephants should receive a well-deserved treatment as they are considered rainmakers and healers. “Today, we are experiencing the results of climate change which include drought and fires. For the sake of all South Africans, we need to show respect towards our rainmakers and healers, the elephants,” said Fritz.

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