NSPCA quits Joburg Zoo ethics committee in protest over Lammie the Elephant

The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) has quit the Johannesburg Zoo's Animal Ethics Committee after being excluded from decisions regarding Lammie the Elephant, the Conservation Action Trust reports.

"We were not included in either decisions or discussions on this critical, controversial issue that has both welfare and ethical implications. We are being used as window dressing," said Karen Trendler, NSPCA Trade and Trafficking manager.

"The Lammie issue was never brought to the ethics committee and yet, publicly, the zoo is stating that it was and that we're on their ethics committee every time they're questioned."

News24 reported in November that the zoo was facing mounting pressure to send a lonely elephant to an animal sanctuary after her male companion died in October.

Protestors dressed in elephant costumes have been demonstrating at the zoo entrance, while online petitions have garnered over 100 000 signatories, clamouring for 39-year-old Lammie to start a new life in the company of other elephants.

The zoo has rather opted to get another elephant companion.

The NSPCA has also addressed a letter of demand to the zoo management and Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba, saying that, if they move forward with obtaining another elephant, "the NSPCA would launch an application in the High Court to interdict such action".

The zoo's correspondence regarding a second elephant has been contradictory. At first, the zoo denied plans to obtain a second elephant, and publicly accused the NSPCA of lying about these plans when they spoke out against such a move. 

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo public relations manager Jenny Moodley said the zoo would not entertain discussions over the "unfounded" claims by the NSPCA, and that "no decision had been made over whether another elephant would be brought in or not".

However, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), of which Johannesburg Zoo is a member, contradicts Moodley’s claims. According to WAZA CEO Doug Cress, the zoo is, in fact, actively "looking to find a second elephant to join Lammie".

'A form of cruelty'

Trendler said the arrival of a second elephant was imminent and should be treated as an emergency. "We've sent out the legal communication, as we just can't risk for another elephant to just arrive at the zoo.

"If this were to happen, it would almost be too late. A captive herd would have been broken up and one of its members sent away. There is also no guarantee that Lammie and the new elephant would even get along."

The zoo's decision to keep Lammie on in her barren enclosure has baffled some elephant management experts, as there are two sanctuaries willing to take in Lammie and introduce her to a herd of previously-captive elephants on a free-roaming reserve.

The Elephant Reintegration Trust (ERT), EMS Foundation and Humane Society International (HSI), have offered their joint assistance to the zoo to move Lammie to a new home - an operation which would be fully funded. The groups had requested numerous meetings with Mashaba and City Parks, to no avail.

"Even if not everybody agreed," Trendler said, "we feel that proposals regarding Lammie's future had to be discussed with the NSPCA, as a member of the zoo’s ethics committee," as well as the other relevant parties willing to help. "It was just never brought to the table."

ERT chairperson Brett Mitchell added: "Our report, which has been shared with the zoo, shows that Lammie’s overall welfare is way below standard, which is a form of cruelty. It is a requirement of WAZA to provide environmental enrichment, and this is clearly not the case with Lammie.”

No reply to requests for comment had been received from the zoo at the time of publishing.

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