Johannesburg Zoo urged to release three captive elephants

Posted on 21 June 2022 By Taylah Strauss

An application to the High Court of South Africa was filed on 20 June, demanding the release of three captive elephants from the Johannesburg Zoo. The application was filed by Animal Law Reform South Africa, EMS Foundation and Chief Stephen Fritz – represented by Cullinan and Associates. Petitions to release the elephants first surfaced in June 2019.

The elephants, fondly known as Lammie, Mopane and Ramadiba are being held captive in conditions that do not meet their most basic needs.

The case is the first of its kind in South African history, and advocates for the release of the three elephants to a natural environment where their needs are met and where they can roam freely.

Several experts have confirmed that the elephants are in psychological distress due to harsh or poor living conditions.

In September 2018, Lammie was left the sole elephant in the Johannesburg Zoo after her enclosure companion of 17 years, Kinkel, died. At the time, the NSPCA and Humane Society International called to have Lammie released to an environment that simulated her natural habitat, when the zoo announced they would be seeking to replace her companion. Elephants are complex, social animals that form close bonds with herd members and in the wild, they live in herds of up to 70 or more individuals. As of 2022, Lammie has been kept at the zoo for 42 years, her entire life.

The Johannesburg Zoo is far behind the international trend to close elephant exhibits in zoos. In the last 30 years, 22 European zoos and 32 North American zoos have closed their elephant exhibits according to the Born Free Foundation’s elephants in zoos report. That said, there are still upwards of 1000 elephants housed in zoos across the world.

Executive Director of EMS Foundation Michele Pickover stated ‘These elephants were cruelly separated from their families, deliberately captured by humans for a life in captivity − experiencing life-long trauma as a result. In captivity, elephants have no agency. They have been removed from their context and live unnatural, isolated, and denigrated lives,

Evidence suggests that the harsh living conditions the elephants are subjected to violate constitutional laws regarding the treatment of animals which poses serious legal ramifications.

Despite years of protesting against these conditions and petitions demanding the release of the elephants, officials are yet to do so. The latest application requests for the elephants to be released to the EMS Foundation, who will facilitate its relocation, rehabilitation and reintegration into the wild.

Picture: EMS Foundation


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