For Immediate Release/July 10, 2019
Mike Harris, director, FoA’s Wildlife Law Program; 720.949.7791;
Priscilla Feral, president,, 203 656-1522

NEW YORK – Exploiters of elephants spotlighted this week in the New York Times Magazine presented the plight of pachyderms in binary terms. They either had to be shot, or sent to live out their lives in captivity in the limited space of zoos, on display to the public and away from their social and community herds. But that simply is not true, according to Friends of Animals.

The NYT piece “Zoos Called it a ‘Rescue.’ But are the Elephants Really Safe?” by Charles Siebert, who writes extensively about animal behavior and human-animal relationships, recounted the story of 18 Swaziland elephants who were sent to zoos despite Friends of Animal’s efforts to keep them in the wild.

About 350,000 elephants remain in Africa and less than 50,000 are left in Asia. The population of pachyderms has declined by 90 percent in the past century.

The three zoos, Dallas Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, had obtained permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to import the elephants in 2016 from a national park in Swaziland overseen by Big Game Parks. Less than 40 elephants lived in Swaziland at the time.

But the Times story notes that B.G.P Executive Director Ted Reilly maintained that if the elephants weren’t sent to the zoos, they’d have to be shot because he claimed they posed a threat to rhinos in an already overly taxed landscape. B.G.P. had the elephants confined behind fences to less than 19 percent of the HLane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve and had the authority to issue export permits.

FoA filed a lawsuit claiming that the FWS had a mandatory duty under the National Environmental Policy Act to fully evaluate and disclose whether the elephants, as a result of captivity, would suffer social, psychological, behavioral and physical impacts for the rest of their lives. The lawsuit was supported by the world’s foremost experts on elephants and the entire board of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group. But ahead of the scheduled March 17, 2016 hearing and without informing the court, a plane was secretly sent from Kansas City on March 5 to transport the elephants to the U.S. After being tipped off by a concerned Swaziland citizen, FoA obtained a temporary restraining order but a federal judge, when told by the zoo’s leading attorney that the elephants had already been sedated and could be harmed if they had to be resedated for later transport if the zoos won the case, acquiesced and allowed them to be flown to the U.S.

“It’s completely bogus that so-called conservationists who receive ‘donations’ when exporting elephants from Africa claim that elephants have to either be shot or live their lives in captivity in zoos and that there are no scientific or humane alternatives,” said Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral. “Hundreds of elephants have been successfully translocated within Africa.”

More than 500 African elephants were translocated in Malawi, she noted. Other options are also available to allow elephants to thrive in their natural environs including opening up connecting corridors for the elephants to move to other reserves.

“Mr. Siebert’s story incontrovertibly confirms what FoA has long asserted—that this transaction between the zoos and the shady Big Game Parks in Swaziland amounted to a transaction to utilize these elephants for a commercial purpose, and had nothing to do with the preservation of these or any other African elephants,” said Mike Harris, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “The American people do not agree with such treatment of these magnificent animals. Now it is time for the U.S. government to enforce existing laws to make sure that these are the very last elephants subject to capture from the wild and a life of captivity in the United States.”

FoA will continue its work to increase protections of elephants. Its work has included petitioning FWS to ban the import of elephant skins and to list elephants in Zimbabwe and Swaziland as threatened or endangered. Additionally, FoA will continue to investigate claims by U.S. zoos that displaying elephants are non-commercial activities and educate the public about the suffering elephants face when they are confined in commercial attractions in the U.S. FoA has supplied 11 African nations with anti-poaching equipment and has long worked against the ivory trade. FoA has also worked to enact legislation in New York, the nation’s largest port of entry for trophies, to ban the import of elephant, giraffes, leopards and rhino trophies and body parts. The legislation passed the NY Senate this spring.

Friends of Animals, an international animal protection organization founded in New York in 1957 and headquartered in Darien, CT, advocates for the rights of animals, free-living and domestic around the world. It has been a decades-long leader in the anti-fur movement. Friends of Animals is proud to be a woman-founded and led organization.