Brian Boswell Circus fights laws that protect elephants

2016-12-10 11:05
Elephants perform in the Brain Boswell Circus in 2008. (File, Netwerk24)

Elephants perform in the Brain Boswell Circus in 2008. (File, Netwerk24)

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Cape Town - Circus owner Brian Boswell is challenging the legality of elephant protection laws after wildlife authorities blocked his attempt to sell African elephants to a zoo in the United Arab Emirates.

Boswell has refused to accept the denial of a permit application to sell five circus-trained elephants to a Dubai zoo for R3 million each.

He is bringing a high court challenge to the validity of the 2008 Elephant Norms and Standards (ENS), which he claims are “policy and cannot be enforced”, the Conservation Action Trust reported.

The Department of Environmental Affairs and KwaZulu-Natal wildlife authorities will oppose the motion in the Pietermaritzburg High Court next year. They say Boswell’s case is flawed since he has misinterpreted the law regarding listed, threatened, or protected species (Tops), as well as the national biodiversity law (Nemba), which states that the ENS are “binding and enforceable”.

Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (EKZNW) rejected his application in terms of South Africa’s biodiversity laws, which do not allow elephants to be exported or imported into permanent captivity.

According to the ENS, no wild or captive elephant may be imported or exported from the Republic, and circus elephants may only be temporarily exported or imported for the duration of a performance.

“As the ENS are officially gazetted norms and standards they are certainly not mere policy guidelines, but binding law,” says attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, Aadila Agjee.

The much-needed ENS came about due to the growing captive elephant industry, massive opposition to elephant culling, and the infamous Tuli elephant torture case in 1999.

The laws were developed with input from elephant scientists, and ensure a uniform approach to managing elephants across the country.

Taking a stand

“South Africa should be applauded for taking a stand through its ENS in trying to protect our elephants,” says Michele Pickover of the EMS Foundation Elephant Project.

“It needs to be enforced as it takes into account the sentient nature and sensitive social structure of elephants as well as the devastating effects that capture, kidnapping, captivity and transportation have on them.  

“It is well known that circuses and private zoos take advantage of loopholes in national and international legislation to trade in live animals for their own financial gain.”

Boswell argues the ENS makes it too difficult to keep retired elephants.

He claims there is nowhere else for the retired 30-year-old circus elephants to go since rehabilitation into the wild is not viable for highly-trained, human-imprinted elephants. The only alternative would be to kill them.

However, ex-elephant trainer Brett Mitchell disagrees.

Mitchell focuses on reintegrating captive elephants into the wild and has successfully re-wilded over 25 captive elephants since 2014.

“A captive-trained elephant can be successfully reintegrated into a wild or extensive system using a soft-release method,” says Mitchell in a court statement. 


Wankie, one of the Brian Boswell Elephants. (File, Netwerk24)

Boswell says his rights to trade have been ignored and the delay in receiving his permits has caused him loss of income, since Zimbabwe’s bourgeoning elephant trade is bringing down the price of the pachyderms.

“I would be lucky now to get R1.5 million for each elephant,” he says, claiming he is within his rights to sue for financial loss.

DEA deputy director for Tops implementation, Magdel Boshoff, says Boswell remains unregistered for keeping and trading elephants. He appears “more concerned about money than the inherent protection of the elephants that have served him in the past”.

Global opposition to keeping circus and zoo elephants is growing due to the negative conditions they endure in captivity.

Welfare experts and scientists have highlighted that commonly-used elephant training methods are cruel, captivity disrupts family bonds essential for their physical and emotional well-being, and low breeding and high birth mortality rates confirm that keeping captive elephants has no conservation value.

In 2013, protesters approached Parliament to have the Animal Protection Act amended to ban the use of animals in circuses, after footage of handlers abusing Brian Boswell Circus elephants was aired on national television.

Read more on:    brian boswell  |  elephants

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