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Lammie’s 40th birthday celebrations and World Elephant Day at Johannesburg Zoo were marred by scenes of highly stressed elephants.
In a viral
video shared online, Lammie is seen running out of her dark quarters, clearly confused and
traumatized. The two other elephants behind bars also react in alarm, much to
the misguided delight of the screaming onlookers.
The Zoo’s two new elephants, a 22-year-old male
named Ramadiba and a 19-year-old female named Mopani are still kept
separate from Lammie. Zoo spokesperson Jenny Moodley confirmed to Beeld that
Lammie has been kept separate from the newcomers and only been allowed to interact
with them through fences for small periods at a time.
On World Elephant Day, Mopani was
made to do tricks to entertain the crowds of visitors bussed in for the
Photos show her having to lie
down, then roll over in front of the media. She was also made to stand on her
knees several times. The two newcomers were initially
caught in the wild by EFAF as calves and trained to
perform stunts for the elephant tourism industry.
Brett Mitchell, 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 with Mopani showing off her training.”
The two new elephants were
held in a small fenced enclosure throughout
the day where the circus tricks were performed.
Audrey Delsink, Humane Society
International (HSI) Africa Wildlife Director and elephant biologist says the
Zoo’s actions are “shocking, but not surprising. Once again, this shows
that entertainment trumps while the elephants’ welfare is pushed aside.
“The increased noise and disturbance as well as the children’s misplaced shouts of delight clearly exacerbated the situation and elevated the elephant’s stress,” Delsink says. “We are extremely concerned about the elephants’ safety and well-being.”
This latest incident follows a public outcry against the keeping Lammie in the Zoo and the introduction
of two new elephants.
UPDATE: Joburg Zoo sues animal rights organisations over World Elephant Day drama
The Johannesburg Zoo is suing Ban
Animal Trading (BAT) and the National Council of SPCAs for criticizing their
World Elephant Day ‘celebrations’ and for sharing footage of the zoo’s
traumatized elephants online.
BAT’s video showed
the bewildered and visibly traumatised elephants in front of scores of excited
visitors. 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.
Howeve rmaking elephants perform tricks directly contravenes the zoo’s
updated elephant management plan.
Joburg Zoo says the posts are
defamatory. The lawyers’ letter to BAT demands that they be withdrawn and an
apology be issued. The NSPCA confirms they’ve received similar legal
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 criticized for squandering public funds when they paid almost R1 million more than the market rate for its two new elephants.