Some detractors have learned about the U.S. zoos’ plan to provide new homes for 18 Swaziland elephants at their facilities in North America. These groups, who do not support zoos or aquariums in any form, believe the animals would be better off remaining in Africa. They claim the zoos and Big Game Parks wildlife trust have not looked for alternative locations to translocate the elephants elsewhere on the continent. The reality is Africa is incredibly unsafe for elephants. Without the protection of Big Game Parks, these elephants could succumb to rapidly worsening drought conditions, aggressive poaching in nearby countries or ever-present animal/human conflict.
Below we included some photos and news coverage that provides a picture of what things are really like on the ground in Africa.
Swaziland and South African countries are experiencing the worst drought in history. Below are some recent images depicting the effects of this drought on the local landscape. Big Game Parks has already seen animals fall prey to a shrinking amount of food and resources. In our zoos, these 18 elephants will not have to compete for resources like food and water. They will spend their day making choices, continually exploring and foraging in our state-of-the-art habitats.
“…the worst is yet to come. The El Niño climate phenomenon, characterized by a warming in the Pacific Ocean, is set to strengthen over the coming months and persist into 2016. When El Niño occurs, rainfall patterns shift, increasing the risk of extreme weather events. The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre predicts a higher likelihood of flood conditions developing in equatorial Africa, and increased risk of drought in parts of southern Africa and the Sahel region.”
“The current El Nino weather phenomenon is expected to peak between October and January and could turn into one of the strongest on record, experts have said. This could bring drier conditions to southern Africa, which is already suffering from drought.”
“It happens approximately every seven or eight years, and is expected to peak between October this year and January next year. The last severe disruption occurred in 1997 and 1998. Across the world, climate change’s and El Niño’s effects on the rainy season have already begun to reduce harvest yields.”
The Poaching Crisis
Relocating Swaziland’s elephants to another location in Africa unrealistic due to an increasing risk of poaching in surrounding countries. For example, Zimbabwe has seen more than 60 elephant deaths in the month of October alone. This is more than three times the number of elephants the three zoos are working to save.
A Changing Environment
Some who oppose this project believe the zoos and Big Game Parks are exaggerating the impact of Swaziland’s elephant population on the local landscape. However, a recent study has begun to describe these impacts on vegetation growth and tree destruction in a similar location at Kruger Park in South Africa. While these elephants do not currently threaten the black rhino population at Big Game Parks, they do pose a risk of negatively and irreversibly changing the park’s landscape. This would affect the resources this land could provide to future rhino populations, as Big Game Parks moves toward expanding their black rhino conservation program.