Three zoos in the United States are paying $450,000 to relocate eighteen elephants from Swaziland, and the money will go a wildlife conservation trust for rhinos in Swaziland – a sovereign state in Southern Africa.
The elephants will board a Boeing 747 to fly to their new homes: the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan., the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb. and the Dallas Zoo.
Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) approved the relocation, a decision that sparked outrage among conservationists. An objection letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service was signed in November by four animal rights leaders who work for different organizations.
Deborah Robinson, co-signer of the objection letter to the US FWS and a captive wildlife attorney, said that capturing wild animals to put them in zoos is something that should not be done anymore. Elephants in zoos usually die twice as fast as they breed, which is why this move will not help with the conservation of the species, Ms. Robinson added. The elephants, as well as their future offspring, will most likely never be released back into the will, she said.
To have good physical and emotional health, elephants require large open spaces, Ms. Robinson explained. The animals also walk for about 20 hour a day in the wild.
However, zoo officials say that they have the best intentions for the eighteen elephants. Their relocation will save the animals from culling and poaching, as well as intentional slaughter. Although the reserves in Swaziland have helped the elephant populations grow, the current drought that the area is experiencing has left the animals without much food or water, according to park officials.
The Room for Rhinos campaign explained that the elephants started destroying the habitat for other species, in search for more food. To make room for rhinos and avoid overpopulation of the elephants in Swaziland, eighteen of them – 15 females and 3 males – will have to be relocated elsewhere.
Melissa Graham, a spokeswoman for the Kansas zoo, said that moving the elephants to the United States is the best solution to provide a safer home to the elephants, and also help balance the environment in Swaziland.
According to Carney Anne Nasser, senior counsel for wildlife and regulatory affairs at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, elephant advocates do not agree with those arguments. Robinson also said that rhinos do not naturally live in that habitat, and that reserve officials are in fact planning to move the rhinos in, once the elephants are out.
Image Source: african elephant fund