Press Release

U.S. Zoos Request Import of African Elephants Under False Pretenses

Wild-captured elephants would be imported for profit, not conservation

Contact: media@aldf.org

Los Angeles, CA — In a decade flush with elephant ‘retirements’ from circuses and zoos nationwide, three American zoos—the Dallas Zoo, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska—intend to import 18 wild-captured elephants from Swaziland, Africa.

Yesterday, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA, Performing Animal Welfare Society, and captive wildlife attorney Deborah Robinson submitted formal comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging the agency to decline issuance of the permit necessary for the import.

The intended use of these 18 elephants is to further the captive breeding programs that have proven unsustainable in U.S. zoos. This intended plan would violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the treaty that regulates international trade in wildlife, which expressly defines captive breeding programs as “commercial activity” and prohibits the import of African elephants for such purposes.

“It is widely known and accepted that elephants do not thrive in zoos,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Inhumane and unnatural conditions of captivity contribute to the aberrant behaviors, such as bobbing and weaving, and most elephants confined in zoos die prematurely due to health problems that are unique to captive populations. Captive elephant breeding programs are undertaken to boost zoo attendance, rather than repopulate range states or serve any legitimate conservation purpose.”

Further, elephants are family oriented—female elephants stay with their mothers for their entire lives, and male offspring stay with their mothers into their teens. The import would break up many family units.

If approved, after the import, fewer than 25 elephants would remain in Swaziland.