Tide is turning against elephant riding

2016-07-28 06:00
=The National Council of SPCAs this week laid cruelty charges against the Knysna Elephant Park (KEP) in Western Cape Province, the Elephants of Eden rehab centre and others, after pictures came to light showing elephants aged between two and seven years old being cruelly tormented to “train” them for lives in the elephant tourism industry.                                  Photo: INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE

=The National Council of SPCAs this week laid cruelty charges against the Knysna Elephant Park (KEP) in Western Cape Province, the Elephants of Eden rehab centre and others, after pictures came to light showing elephants aged between two and seven years old being cruelly tormented to “train” them for lives in the elephant tourism industry. Photo: INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE

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Criminal charges had been laid two years ago by the national council of SPCAs after receiving horrific footage depicting the cruel and abusive training methods employed to control and train baby and young elephants for the elephant-based tourist industry.

The footage had been taken on the premises of Elephants of Eden near Plettenberg Bay, a property defined as a safe haven for elephants. It is owned by the same entities who own the Knysna Elephant Park.

“I have decided that Lisette Withers and four others should be prosecuted for contravening the Animals Protection Act (Act 71 of 1962) as evidenced in Alexandria CAS 66/05/2014.”

So said Advocate SK Abrahams of the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in a communication dated 18 July 2016 to Isabel Wentzel, the manager of the NSPCA’s Wildlife Protection Unit.

The visuals show elephant calves and juvenile elephants being chained, roped and stretched, shocked with electric cattle prods and hit with bull hooks – all methods used to force these gentle giants to submit to the will of their trainers and handlers.

NSPCA Senior Inspector Wendy Willson stated when the matter first came to light, “The elephants show signs of crippling injuries with severely swollen legs and feet, debilitating abscesses and wounds resulting from the abusive use of ropes, chains, and bull hooks.”

However the NSPCA was advised in October 2015 by the Grahamstown Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that the case would not proceed.

The NSPCA queried this and was advised in November 2015 that the DPP remained unpersuaded that the methods constituted cruel treatment and/or caused unnecessary suffering for the elephants.

Undeterred, the NSPCA pursued the matter by approaching the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions and the outcome, as stated above, has been welcomed.

“The tide is turning internationally against tourist facilities which offer interactions with wild animals.

“Our years of advocacy, investigation and placing before the public the truth behind elephant rides or elephant-back safaris is now being rewarded through public awareness, pressure and impact,” stated Isabel Wentzel.

Tour operators including Thompson Safaris will no longer bring tourists to reserves where elephant-back safaris take place.

Camp Jabulani in Hoedspruit has announced that from April 2017 it will no longer offer elephant riding to tourists but will rather promote the viewing of elephants in their natural state and environment.

“Until we published photographs and irre-futable evidence that this was happening in South Africa, there was a misunderstanding. It was generally thought that such methods were only used in Asia. Not so,” said Wentzel.

(-Heilie Combrinck)

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