We have been asked, why ERP does not support elephants in captivity. There are myriad and compelling reasons, and we are currently dealing with these via a formal submission process in response to draft legislation in South Africa.

I do want to point out though, that my view is that people keeping elephants in captivity (mostly, but not only the infamous ‘experience with elephants’ type operations) are not doing so out of intentional cruelty, or that visitors to these places are evil. Most, if not all, are animal-lovers, but elephants are sentient beings, and are not benefiting from this misplaced love. It is inappropriate to cage these creatures for the fleeing pleasure of the passing trade of human beings. There may have been a time when this was acceptable, but it is no more.

In considering the above, consider also the means followed to get the ends:

  • Elephants are gregarious creatures with strong social bonds. Females live their entire lives with families. Males go from one family of blood relations to a family consisting of other male elephants bonded by life-long companionship. Placing them in captivity deprives them of these important social bonds and leaves them with depression, PTSD and abnormal behaviour.
  • Elephants are physically built for an active life of being on the move constantly. Obesity, foot ailments and joint disorders are common for captive elephants not able to move very much or very far.- In the wild, elephants are the true kings of the savanna with other animals giving way to them. Captive elephants are deprived of their freedom. Everything is controlled – when to move, how much to move, when to drink, when to eat and what to eat, when to be exposed to people, when to perform and when to be hidden away.
  • Captive elephants misrepresent their wild relatives. They display behaviours you would not see in nature, such as allowing humans to come close to them. This becomes a safety issue, when people come across wild elephants. Wild elephants will not allow you to come close and if threatened by your presence, they will defend themselves with you on the losing end – at least until they are then shot for being ‘problem’ animals.

Elephants are fantastic beings with an awe-inspiring presence. We fully understand the urge to get closer to them. But when you know what captive elephants have gone through, are experiencing every day and how they are supposed to be in the wild, then we certainly hope you will not engage in these interactions. Instead, learn more about them, and enjoy them in the wild where you will be able to experience their true selves.

The light on the horizon for these hapless elephants in captivity in South African ‘elephant experiences’, is that they can be freed again, over time. This has already been successfully done by forward-looking individuals, and our organisation will make available our own land, find other available land, and bankroll the re-wilding operations. The only possible motivator we can think of for operators of to continue the nefarious practice is making money out of the elephants. Please don’t enable them to carry out doing so.

When elephant bulls are 9-14 years old, they leave their family groups to form new social bonds with other young bulls and older ones. In this new kind of family, they learn how to really be elephant bulls and build life-long friendships. Photo by Ida Hansen

Ida Hansen

Elephant Monitor

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