Saturday, 21 December 2013

Update on the Shearwater elephants captured from Hwange

In November 2006, Shearwater Adventures located in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, captured twelve wild juvenile elephants from Hwange National Park for the purpose of training the animals for use in the elephant back riding industry. Once ZNSPCA heard about this capture, Inspectors visited the premises where the elephants were being held. One elephant had died a day after it had been captured while another female elephant had escaped from her enclosure. The remaining ten elephants were in a state of shock and showed clear symptoms of stress. After vet reports on the elephants were obtained and photographic evidence taken, the ZNSPCA appealed to National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (NPWMA) for permission to stop the training of these wild elephants and release the animals. NPWMA granted ZNSPCA permission to release the elephants.
On the day the elephants were scheduled for release, however, ZNSPCA Inspectors were told by a deputy Minister of Parliament to leave the elephants alone. Inspectors subsequently filed twelve counts of animal cruelty charges against Shearwater Adventures at the local Police station and submitted photographic evidence to prove the cruelty. Shearwater Adventures subsequently banned Inspectors from entering their property in order to examine the elephants. Two obstruction charges were filed against Shearwater Adventures with the Police. During the next few weeks, the docket for animal cruelty against Shearwater Adventures was "lost", ZNSPCA replaced it, the docket was moved to another police station, and finally all charges including the obstruction charges against Shearwater Adventures were dropped by the Police due to "lack of evidence".
ZNSPCA fought to gain access to the elephan/ts in the High Court for over a year. During time another two elephants died. Inspectors approached elephant specialist, Dr. Joyce Poole, for assistance. Dr. Poole submitted an affidavit regarding the cruelty involved in capturing and training wild elephants. Furthermore, she wrote a motivated request to the Attorney General requesting the ban on future capture of wild elephants (note that these documents were used by ZNSPCA in the subsequent Sondelani case as well). During this period the story was widely publicised in the press and on the Internet, causing the near collapse of Shearwater Adventures' business. Shearwater Adventure was, thus, forced to stop the High Court battle and asked ZNSPCA Inspectors to visit the elephants. Unfortunately, by this time, the intense and highly abusive training was over and Inspectors were unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that cruelty was continuing to take place.
NPWMA would not fully commit themselves to banning future captures of wild elephants, but shortly after issuing the release permit to ZNSPCA, verbally communicated that they would not be issuing further permits without ZNSPCA's knowledge.

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