SSN Members on Australia’s Asian Elephant Import Plan

International Fund for Animal Welfare
RSPCA Australia
Humane Society International


20 July 2005 – IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare), RSPCA Australia and Humane Society International (HSI), represented by the Environmental Defenders Office Ltd (EDO), will appeal the decision made today by the Minister for the Environment, Senator Ian Campbell, to allow the import of eight Asian elephants from Thailand to Taronga and Melbourne zoos.

The NGOs expressed extreme disappointment that the Minister had made such an error of judgment.

“This is quite simply the wrong decision-the importation does not meet the requirements of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999,” said Nicola Beynon from HSI.

“The zoos have not provided any evidence that their captive breeding plan will succeed, there is no conservation benefit for the endangered Asian elephant, and zoos cannot meet the complex needs of these creatures-no matter how hard they try,” said IFAW Asia Pacific’s Rebecca Brand.

The NGOs will ask the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review the Minister’s decision and are seeking an injunction to prevent the animals being transported from Thailand until the appeal is heard. It is in the best interests of the elephants that they remain in Thailand until the appeal is heard-the animals should not suffer because the zoos jumped the gun and put them in quarantine months before they had the necessary permits.

RSPCA Australia President Dr Hugh Wirth said elephants are large roaming animals that would walk up to 9km each day in the wild, and therefore need room to move that could not be provided in a zoo environment.

“Scientific evidence has clearly demonstrated that elephants in zoos breed poorly, suffer myriad health problems (including serious foot and joint complaints) and die at a younger age than even those in camps. Keeping elephants in zoos is simply cruel. This plan places the welfare of these precious animals at risk and we will fight it to the very end,” said Dr Wirth.

“We are confident that based on scientific evidence and expert testimonials the Tribunal will overturn this erroneous decision and refuse the importation of the elephants,” Ms Beynon said. “It is inconceivable that the zoos are sticking with a 19th century notion that all zoos must have an elephant. It is not appropriate in this day and age when we know how much elephants suffer in captivity.”

In addition to the letters of opposition sent to the Minister from renowned scientists and conservations, he has also received more than 65,000 emails and letters of protest from the public-all of which he seems to have ignored.

“Efforts to save Asian elephants can, and must, be focused on protection and the prevention of habitat destruction in their home range states,” Ms Brand said. “We applaud the zoos for upgrading their facilities for elephants currently in their care and encourage them to continue their in-situ conservation work through the Asian elephant’s home ranges. However, the import of elephants to stock Australasian zoos is a backward step and should cease immediately.”

Media contacts: IFAW Jennifer Walters 0437 414 329 or Erica Martin on 02 9288 4999 HSI Nicola Beynon 02 9973 1728 or 0404 065 517 or Michael Kennedy 0416 215 517 RSPCA Australia Jane Speechley 02 6282 8300 or 0419 748 907 Legal contact Jessica Simpson (solicitor, Environmental Defenders Office) 02 9262 6989 or 0402 114 929

Additional comments from SSN Members:

“In my view, the net contribution of zoos to the conservation of elephants has been zero – and the plans of the two Australian zoos, Taronga and Melbourne, offer nothing that makes me think otherwise. Asian elephants need help in Asia – what could the estimated £20 million or more spent by the two zoos on their tiny captive enclosures have done for wild elephants? Frankly the whole thing is a disgrace and demonstrates that the zoo industry is still stuck in the conceptual mindset of another century.”

–Will Travers, Born Free Foundation, Horsham, UK,

“Here in America we know all too well the horrors of cruelly trading in live elephants for captivity. While the US government recently did the bidding of two American zoos and allowed the unconscionable importation of 11 elephants from Swaziland, we hoped the Australian government would show greater compassion of vision. Sadly, they have done no better, and now, more elephants will languish in a concrete jungle for the mere amusement of gawking onlookers.”

–Adam Roberts, Born Free USA, Washington DC, USA,

“The importation of these elephants does not meet the requirements of Australia’s wildlife trade legislation on multiple counts. The welfare of these eight young elephants is being put at risk for a breeding program that is not necessary and will not result in elephants returning to the wild. Worse, in purchasing elephants from private camps in Thailand there is the very real danger that the zoos have contributed to the market demand for juvenile elephants in Asia that drives an illegal trade from the wild. HSI is proud to be working alongside IFAW and the RSPCA, with the help of the Born Free Foundation, to try and overturn the Australian Minister’s decision.”

–Nicola Beynon, Humane Society International, Avalon, Australia

“The zoos cannot meet the biological and behavioural needs of the elephants and there is no conservation benefit to stocking Australian zoos with these animals. Claims that a so-called zoo-breeding program will help save this endangered species are weak and unfounded. We are confident that this flawed and damaging decision will be overturned.”

–Rebecca Brand, IFAW Asia Pacific, Sydney, Australia

“As scientific and civil community has raised issues regarding the threat to the Asian elephant and the importance of its conservation, it is surprising to see governments making irrational decisions to trade in live elephants, thus undermining the efforts of any conservation movement. It is sad to see developed nations like Australia failing to understand the importance of conservation of Asian elephants, especially when illegal poaching in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos are getting more rampant.”

–Masayuki Sakamoto, General Secretary, Japan Wildlife Conservation Society and Chairman, Asian Conservation Alliance, Tokyo, Japan