For Immediate Release
March 14, 2016
Friends of Animals will pursue its lawsuit against USFWS for granting permits to zoos that imported Swaziland elephants
Friends of Animals (FoA) is adamant that the law was violated when United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) granted permits to the Dallas Zoo, the Sedwick County Zoo in Kansas, and Omaha, Nebraska’s Henry Doorly Zoo to import 18 African elephants from Swaziland, so the organization is pressing forward with its lawsuit against the agency and its director Dan Ashe.
“We expect other U.S. zoos to try and buy elephants from Swaziland, which began importing elephants from South Africa back in 1987 for commercial purposes,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “In 2003, Swaziland sold 11 elephants to U.S. zoos for a profit of about 133,000 U.S. dollars. FoA will not stand by as some African nations nickel and dime critically endangered elephants to death and we will continue to hold USFWS’ feet to the fire so they don’t issue another permit, which is likely as long as Dan Ashe is director. With hope, he will be replaced under a new administration next year.”
Under National Environment Protection Act (NEPA), USFWS has a mandatory duty to fully evaluate and disclose all environmental impacts associated with the issuance of this permit. This includes addressing the growing scientific evidence that, as a result of issuing the permit, these elephants will suffer social, psychological, behavioral and physical impacts for the rest of their lives.
“USFWS is turning a blind eye to the growing scientific consensus that elephants are highly intelligent, social and emotional beings,” said Mike Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “The trauma of being ripped from their families in the wild, transported halfway around the world and forced to live the remainder of their lives in captivity will have an everlasting effect on these animals. Evidence shows that they will suffer from depression, anxiousness, mood swings and fear. They also face a high risk of disease and disability. No wonder it has been shown that zoo elephants simply don't live as long as those in the wild.”
The United States Department of Agriculture might very well regulate some of these impacts; but that does not mean that USFWS is automatically excused from disclosing and evaluating such impacts under NEPA. A proper NEPA analysis would have provided information relevant to whether or not the zoos are suitably equipped to house and care for these elephants, a finding USFWS is required to make under the applicable U.S. and international law. Disclosure of this information might also cause the zoos themselves—which purport to seek the best for these animals—to reconsider their request for a permit. Finally, disclosure might create more pressure on, and support for, the government of Swaziland—from governments, NGOs, private institutions (including some zoos and universities), and individuals—to pursue alternative means to keep these animals in Africa where they belong.
Swaziland officials have claimed that elephants are overrunning their country, and if they are not sent to the zoos, they will be forced to kill them outright. However since the elephants were flown to U.S. zoos, there are only 21 elephants left in Swaziland.
Independent observers assert that Swaziland mismanages the elephants, improperly confining them to small areas where they naturally overgraze and impact the land. Moreover, there is no evidence to show that Swaziland has made any serious attempt to expand elephant habitats in its territory or to work with other African countries, parks or sanctuaries to keep these elephants in Africa.
USFWS needs to get its head out of the sand and recognize society’s changing view of captivity that is being fueled by a greater recognition of the detrimental impacts to captive elephants in zoos, circuses and other entertainment-related facilities. Many zoos around the world, including Detroit Zoo and San Francisco Zoo, have closed their elephant exhibits.