Written by Louzel Lombard Steyn
‘Lonely Lammie’ has become the poster animal of South Africa’s struggling captive animals since the death of her partner Kinkel in September last year. Experts argue that bringing another elephant into captivity will simply perpetuate the imprisonment of sentient animals for human entertainment.
The Johannesburg Zoo continues to make unilateral decisions regarding Lammie the elephant’s future, while the city council turns a blind eye. The zoo announced in January that it was actively searching for a second elephant, prompting the resignation of South Africa’s National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) from the zoo’s animal ethics committee. The zoo’s decision flies in the face of numerous specialist reports detailing the shortfalls of keeping social, sentient animals in captivity. The zoo has yet to clarify who the elephant specialists advising them are.
Ongoing global petitions supporting Lammie’s release to an accredited rewilding sanctuary have presently received over 300,000 signatures. A Facebook survey by Carte Blanche showed that 95% of close to 8,000 participants were against keeping wild animals in zoos. This comes after a televised investigation in March showed ongoing neglect and animal welfare concerns at three South African zoos, including Johannesburg Zoo.
Going in circles
Animal activist group Ban Animal Trading (BAT) say the zoo is deliberately stalling attempts to free Lammie. At first, the zoo instructed BAT to consult residents in Johannesburg about Lammie’s future via a formal public participation process (PPP).
“There are no PPPs required when the zoo sells and exports animals to international pet shops or wildlife traders,” says BAT director Smaragda Louw. “Why are they suddenly demanding a PPP in order to relocate Lammie?”
She says the zoo also directed BAT to consult the speaker of the city council, Vasco da Gama, regarding Lammie’s freedom. BAT did so in December, delivering an in-depth proposal from Humane Society International (HSI)-Africa, EMS Foundation and the Elephant Reintegration Trust (ERT) to the speaker and Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba in person.
No response was received from the Mayor, while Da Gama confirmed that he studied the proposals and consulted with the relevant authority on the matter, community development counselor Nonhlanhla Sifumba. The matter was then directed back to the zoo. Nothing came of it.
In February, after numerous meeting requests and email communications by HSI Africa, EMS Foundation and ERT with the Johannesburg Zoo and Mayor Mashaba, the zoo finally called a meeting between its management, Sifumba and the three welfare organisations working to rehabilitate Lammie. Sifumba acknowledged the city council consultation process already undertaken by BAT, during which it was ruled that Lammie’s case was a ‘zoo matter.’ Despite her previous knowledge of this outcome, Sifumba did not inform the attendees and insisted that they repeat the same procedure again.
The zoo’s general manager Bryne Maduka also stonewalled, saying the zoo’s board could not make final decisions on Lammie, and referred the organisations back to the city council.
The organisations say they are frustrated with the zoo’s sidestepping. “The February meeting was a stalling tactic and was completely disingenuous,” said Audrey Delsink, South African elephant specialist and HSI-Africa Wildlife Director. “It was simply a tick-box exercise for the zoo’s public relations team. No attempt was made to discuss the concerns or our proposal.”
There has been no formal response whatsoever to the organisations’ proposals. Direct calls on the mayor are sent around in circles, ultimately redirected to zoo spokesperson Jenny Moodley.
When questioned regarding decisions made following the February meeting, Moodley stated only that “Lammie continues to do very well at the zoo.” In January, she confirmed that the zoo was getting another elephant.
Annette Steyn, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, repeated the zoo’s statements. She says Mayor Mashaba was advised that Lammie would not be able to survive if relocated as she is “too old and has been in captivity for too long.” Steyn is unable to say who the zoo consulted to reach this conclusion. However, she says there is a possibility that Mashaba has been misinformed by the zoo.
An open letter by 13 elephant specialists to Mashaba states, “The reintegration of a captive elephant back into the wild has been repeatedly successfully demonstrated, provided there is a long-term reintroduction program.” Numerous successful cases have been completed with elephants aged over 30 years, some also having spent their lives in captivity.
None of the specialist signatories have been consulted by the zoo.
Featured image: an elephant looks out from an enclosure at the Antwerp Zoo. Elephants do not tolerate captivity well and many zoos have begun phasing out their elephant exhibits. Image credit Benoit Dupont, CC BY-SA 3.0.