While Joburg Zoo sues animal rights organisations over the World Elephant Day drama, South Africans are making their voices heard!
Johannesburg, South Africa – The Johannesburg Zoo is suing Ban Animal Trading (BAT) and the National Council of SPCAs for criticising their World Elephant Day ‘celebrations’ and for sharing footage of the zoo’s traumatised elephants online.
But the good news here is that ordinary citizens are being brave and speaking out for the rights of our wildlife. The reason that the video has gone viral is that South Africans care deeply for our natural heritage, and do not want to see animals being exploited.
And we have created a call to action for concerned South Africans to make their collective voices heard!
Sparked by the recent outcry over the treatment of elephants at the Joburg Zoo, Dear South Africa, Good Things Guy and BAT are gathering input from the public to determine the introduction of an amendment to the outdated Animals Protection Act of 1962 and the Performing Animals Act of 1935. This amendment will strengthen the legislation to ensure animals in captivity are not subject to abuse while harsher penalties are imposed on individuals and institutions who contravene the Act.
While the PERFORMING ANIMALS PROTECTION ACT NO 24 OF 1935 promotes the ethical treatment of animals in captivity, it contains several clauses of great concern, namely;
Nothing in this Act shall apply to the confinement or training of animals for military, police or sporting purposes or the purposes of an agricultural show, horse show, dog show, caged bird show or any public zoological gardens, or to the exhibition of animals at a military or police tournament or at a gymkhana, or at any show or in any such gardens or to the use of a dog for safeguarding by the South African Defence Force, the South African Police or the Prisons Service.
BAT’s video, which showed the bewildered and visibly traumatised elephants in front of scores of excited visitors was the catalyst to create a call to action for all South Africans to take part in. It has been viewed more than 38 000 times on Facebook. Photos also show one elephant performing tricks in front of the press while Lammie was kept locked away from the media for hours.
However, making elephants perform tricks directly contravenes the zoo’s updated elephant management plan.
Brett Mitchell, an elephant behavioural expert and chairperson of the Elephant Reintegration Trust (ERT), says the Zoo’s cruel experiment is typical of a facility that’s only keeping elephants for the sake of entertainment and economic gain.
“The elephants’ behaviour indicates they were under immense stress. Heavy temporal streaming, running with head and tail up and foot-swinging are typical signs of distress and separation anxiety in elephants. Lammie is seen spinning, dribbling urine and kicking the ground as soon as she is released back into the enclosure on her own. From the other two elephants, there is loud bellowing while they buckle their hind legs – a typical sign of stress,” Mitchell says.
“If the Zoo had any respect for elephants, especially on World Elephant Day, they would not have created an entertainment program for people which negatively affects the very animals they claim to look after,” Mitchell says.
“The Zoo once again shows their complete lack of morality and has no concern for their elephants’ welfare.”
Furthermore, he says, the children visiting the zoo “did not learn anything besides that it’s okay to lock up elephants, stress them out and provoke them for the sake of human entertainment”.
DA Shadow Minister of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) spokesperson James Lorimer says its “extremely distasteful and wrong.
“How do you get to a situation where you have zoo animals doing tricks, and for whom? Zoos are supposed to be about education and teaching people about the importance of wildlife, and this does not aid that understanding,” he says.
According to Zoo spokesperson Jenny Moodley, the elephants enjoyed the interaction.
“The two new elephants that came from a sanctuary were trained to respond to groups of people at the sanctuary that they were based at,” she says. “Yesterday was no different from Mopani showing off her training.”
In the lawyer’s letter to BAT, Joburg Zoo says the viral video posts are defamatory and are demanding that they are withdrawn and an apology be issued. The NSPCA confirms they’ve received similar legal documents.
BAT shared the lawyers’ letter online, saying “Free the Johannesburg Zoo Elephants!”.
They say it’s concerning that the zoo would use taxpayers’ money to sue Non-Profit Organisations working in the interest of animals. The Zoo was previously criticised for squandering public funds when they paid almost R1 million more than the market rate for its two new elephants.