Animal Welfare

Despite Protests, Dallas Zoo Gets Its Elephants

Despite deep consternation from animal rights groups, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has approved an application from the Dallas Zoo to import six elephants from Swaziland in southwest Africa. According to the Swazi government, the animals needed to be moved in order to help preserve the country's game parks for Swaziland's endangered rhinoceros population.

The Dallas Zoo joined with the Sedgwick County Zoo and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo to import 18 elephants total. According to the zoos, the elephants in question where slated to be culled from the reserve in which they formerly lived had they not been placed at the American zoos. They were removed from the game parks in July and have lived in temporary holding areas.

“Our zoos are committed to the safe future of these elephants,” Gregg Hudson the president and CEO of Dallas Zoo said Friday in praising the USFWS decision.

In November, during the midst of the permitting controversy, the zoos and the Swazi government said in a joint press release that importing the elephants was the best thing for their continued well being. Risks like poaching and loss of habitat made it impossible to guarantee the pachyderms' continued viability on their home continent, the groups said. U.C. Berkeley wildlife Professor Wayne M. Getz told the Observer he disagreed.

"[The statements made by the zoos and Swazi government are] a sweeping generalization," he said in November. "There are many unsafe places in Africa for sure, but there are also safe places, such as parts of Botswana and the developing wildlife tourist areas of the Eastern Cape Region of South Africa."

The USFWS sided with the zoos.

"The proposed action is the issuance of a CITES permit by the Service for the importation of up to 18 African elephants from Swaziland. The elephants are currently housed in an enclosure at the Mkhaya Game Reserve, Swaziland. The elephants were removed from Mkhaya Game Reserve and Hlane National Park, Swaziland, due to overpopulation of elephants within the two protected areas and the negative impact the elephants were having on the vegetation and other wildlife species. Big Game Parks (BPG), the delegated authority responsible for implementation of Swaziland's Game Act of 1953, has determined that the number of elephants in the two protected areas must be reduced. Further, the reduction in the number of elephants within each of the protected areas will facilitate BGP's efforts to increase the population of black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), a critically endangered species, within the two protected areas." 
PETA, one of the strongest voices against the elephant importation, was, as they typically are, outraged.

"This is a shameful transfer of young elephants who were taken from their families for commercial purposes, an elephant slave trade. As PETA earlier pointed out to federal authorities, elephants are intelligent, social and wide-ranging animals who need to be in the wild, not separated from their closely knit families and displayed inside small enclosures where they will almost certainly suffer from trauma, stress, aggression and chronic disease, and die prematurely. Baby-elephant displays boost zoos' ticket sales at the animals' expense, and it's shameful for the authorities to approve of this money-grubbing plan to send once-free African elephants to endure a life of captivity in American zoos," PETA Foundation spokeswoman Rachel Mathews said.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young