In June, faciliated by the Humane Society International, I was invited by the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) to attend a two day meeting of 47 Chinese Zoo Directors in Shenzhen, China. My invitation followed the bad press that China received in relation to the importation of baby elephants from Zimbabwe late last year. At least one of these babies died and another became seriously ill. Zimbabwe had earlier given assurances that it would stop the capture of baby elephants for captivity and the news of the shipment and deaths and rumour that more babies were awaiting capture and export, prompted an international outcry.
The CAGZ was eager not to be caught up in such exposure again and I was asked to give a 90 minute presentation on the topic of "The Importance of Animal Behavior in Import Decisions". The trip to China offered an excellent opportunity to also speak about another topic involving elephants and China and Petter and I decided that I should extend my stay to include Hong Kong and Beijing to talk about elephants, poaching and the ivory trade.
Celia Ho, the "Elephant Girl" arrived soon afterwards and we had a really nice meeting just the two of us, in which she presented me with an origami elephants with the words “Every Tusk Costs a Life, Don’t Buy Ivory” written on it.
The following morning, 16 June, Iris Ho and I took the train to the border and crossed into mainland China and on to the Zoo Director’s meeting in Shenzhen. I spoke to the Directors on 18 June, using the occasion to introduce the audience to elephant society and behavior, why the capture and importation of baby elephants is a very bad idea and why elephants don’t do well in captivity. You'll find my summary slide here. I also asked the Zoo Directors to educate their visitors not to buy ivory - but it is fair to say that they didn't particularly like the Every Tusk Costs a Life campaign artwork I showed them. I was forgiven, one of them said, for not knowing that the artwork spelled China in Mandarin...
On 19th I flew from Shenzhen in southern China to Beijing, where I spent the last four days of my China trip, primarily in the care of IFAW and, most particularly, Qi Zhang, or “Sabrina”. She came to meet me at my hotel that evening and took me on my only real touristic experience, which was a delicious meal at a classic Chinese restaurant, a visit to Tianamen Square and a drive through a hutong by bicycle rickshaw.
On the morning 20th I was met at my hotel by Chunmei Hu, a young Chinese student who has just graduated from Veterinary School and hopes to work in an animal rescue center. I had "met" Chunmei via email earlier in the year when the news of the death of the Zimbabwean baby elephant broke in China and made waves around the world. Chunmei and I have been corresponding since then about the plight of elephants in Chinese Zoos, and she wanted me to speak at a symposium of Zoo Watch China. She took me out to lunch prior to the gathering where I met some of her animal welfare colleagues including Prof. Ping Mang from the Academy of Chinese Culture.
Professor Mang coordinated the symposium which included several presentations on the state of elephants in Chinese Zoos as well as some of the legal problems related to the law - or lack thereof - for animal protection. The photographs and videos that were shown were completely heartbreaking. It may be a good thing that I didn’t see them before I gave my talk to the Zoo Directors. I had been given clear instructions not to mention any Chinese elephant welfare examples, to avoid embarrassing the Directors, but I don’t think I would have been able to keep silent had I seen the images first. The symposium was well attended by journalists and I gave a couple of interviews after the Symposium including with China Daily, also covered in it's US version and the Global Times.
The schedule of 21 June began at 10:00 a.m. with a meeting with the Head of the Department of Wild Animal Protection and the Head and Deputy Head of the Division of Wild Animal Conservation and Management to discuss the ivory trade. It took quite a bit of effort to achieve the meeting and I had been forewarned that this Ministry, which is home to both the CITES Managament Authority and the CAZG, is known for being very conservative on issues related to animal welfare and ivory trade. When I broached the topic of China’s involvement in the illegal ivory trade they responded with a list of arguments that can only be read as denial.
For example, I was told that since 1900 colonials killed 8 million of Africa’s elephants; that some 800 tons of ivory is being traded on the Internet by the United States and other countries masquerading as pre-ban ivory; China has very good law enforcement/regulations and, therefore, it is not China that is at fault, but her neighboring countries; rumors of the hoarding of ivory and rumors of high prices are killing the elephant, not China (i.e. it is rumor-mongering that is leading to escalated poaching not facts); and when I asked how they were going to meet CITES recommendation to reduce demand, I was told that China has good education to restrict people to purchasing just legal stock.
The meeting was useful in that I learned that to change the status quo we cannot rely on bureaucrats associated with China's CITES Management Authority. I was reminded again that CITES is an international body mandated to regulate trade in wildlife products; it is not a wildlife conservation body. These individuals are too pro trade to be able to admit that their Ministry is failing to control the ivory trade, nor to be able to see that that failure is ruining China’s reputation in the eyes of the world.
In the meantime, on the same day, far away in the Philippines, the crushing of a five-ton ivory stockpile was underway. This event was covered by the New York Times, which made mention of my trip.
On my last day in Beijing, 22 June, I gave a final lecture which was held in the Auditorium of the National Academy of Sciences. The event was organized by IFAW and their team coordinated by Sabrina did a fantastic job. Imagine my surprise when we pulled up to the Academy of Sciences and there, attached securely to the side of the building, was the most enormous banner announcing the lecture with pictures of elephants and me:-).
As I was speaking to the interpreter in a side room, the air suddenly began to vibrate with the sound of “Ele-Beats”. Sabrina had found it on our website and downloaded it for people to listen to as they registered. There was no need to check the sound system – the woofers were certainly fit for low frequency elephant rumbles! When I walked into the 300-seat auditorium I had my next surprise. The screen was enormous – stretching the entire width of the room and Sabrina and the IFAW team had put together a slide show of elephants and the history of Joyce. I was astonished!
As “Ele-Beats” played on and on (and on!), the auditorium gradually filled up with parents and small children, primary school and secondary school students, teachers, scientists, professors, members of the press and Li Bingbing’s assistant, Eline, whom I had been looking forward to meeting. And then it was time to speak to this vibrant crowd.
Grace Gabriel had organized a panel discussion afterwards and time for Q&A. So when I had finished speaking Grace, Jie Yu of the Nature Conservancy (who co-sponsored the talk with IFAW) and CCTV Host, Yue Zhang, (introduced to me as "China’s Oprah Winfrey" as I was to soon understood why!), joined me on stage. Yue Zhang spoke passionately about elephants and other animals and did a fantastic job of leading the questions and keeping the discussion lively. That hour-long Q&A was my next China surprise. I was blown-away by the caliber of questions from the audience – from both young and old, layman and professional. I have given many talks, but this was the most intelligent and compassionate audience I have ever had the pleasure to engage with.
So what did I learn and ElephantVoices achieve? And what can YOU do? I went to China not knowing what to expect. I, admittedly, went in despair over the elephant poaching horror and China's key role in it confirmed by facts and figures of ivory shipments from well reputed sources. The sad situation simply cannot be denied, even though many government officials are trying to do so. I am more convinced than ever before that ALL trade must be banned, to send the clear signals so much needed.
It is obviously impossible to know if my lectures, meetings and the many headlines that have followed have made any impression on those in power. However, having met so many outward and forward looking, curious people who care deeply about the world they inhabit, I have come away with more optimism.
We all know that the effort to educate people about the connection between the purchase of ivory and the killing of elephants needs to be widespread and massive. And we urgently need the Chinese government to be loud and clear in communicating that it is shameful and embarrassing for China to be seen by the global community as responsible for the buying of body parts that, accumulated, leaves tens of thousands of elephants dead in Africa every year. As a colossal investor in Africa, China has a lot to lose if the death and destruction continues. We can only dare to hope that those behind China's new "soft power" approach will take the lead in turning the fate of elephants around. We will all lose part of our pride, and our soul, if the killing of elephants doesn't stop.
You can be part of the tsunami needed to create change - to save elephants. You may not be able to inspire more diplomatic approaches, but you can write on Facebook, get a friend to post on Weibo, contact your politician, talk to a journalist - and participate in upcoming marches and other arrangements focusing on the ivory trade and what urgently should be done. In any way you can, try to ensure that the message is shared in a medium that can reach someone in China. Please include information that people should know about in that regard in the comment field below this blog post. Your suggestions and thoughts are welcome!
I'd like to send a warm Thank You to all my new friends in Hong Kong and mainland China - the hospitality and kind and efficient efforts by so many made a huge difference to my busy program. A special thank you to Jacqueline and William Furniss for hosting me in Hong Kong, and to the Humane Society International and International Fund for Animal Welfare for inspiration and support.
Today, 2 August, marks five years since Aaron Leider and Robert Culp, the late world renown actor, filed a case against Los Angeles Zoo and its director, John Lewis. It has been a long battle, but the ruling from 23 July shows it was worth it. Even though the court didn't close down the LA Zoo elephant exhibit, the ruling is highly critical of both the staff and so-called experts from LA Zoo and AZA.
We are gratified that the landmark ruling for animals in captivity states that evidence presented by ElephantVoices' Joyce Poole was "the most credible testimony". The main point, though, is that a dedicated team, with attorney, David Casselman, at the helm, did a great job preparing and in court. Elephants need people to fight for a better tomorrow - the LA Zoo case demonstrates clearly the suffering caused by human ignorance, lack of competence and straight out cover up of the real issues concerning elephants in captivity.
From the perspective of elephants and their interests, there are many highlights in the ruling. While it is our opinion that the evidence presented offers a strong basis for closing down the exhibit, it also inspires us to further define scientifically sound arguments for why elephants don't belong in urban zoos. The headline, above all others, is the lack of space.
For the benefit of LA Zoo's elephants Billy, Tiny and Jewell, The Court has:
Banned the use of bull hooks and electric shock;
Ordered the City of Los Angeles and the Zoo Director to roto-till the exhibit regularly, consistent with the standards and recommendations of Dr. Oosterhuis and Jeff Andrews
Ordered the City of Los Angeles and the Zoo Director to exercise the elephants at least two hours a day, unless weather or emergency conditions make it impracticable.
We urge you to read the ruling, which is educational in itself.
Two quotes from the ruling speak volumes to the elephant cause - and there are many others:
"Contrary to what the zoo's representatives may have told the Los Angeles City Council in order to get the construction of the $42 million exhibit approved and funded, the elephants are not healthy, happy, and thriving".
“Captivity is a terrible existence for any intelligent, self-aware species. To believe otherwise, as some high-ranking zoo employees appear to believe, is delusional. And the quality of life that Billy, Tina, and Jewel endure in their captivity is particularly poor.”
We believe this ruling will act as a serious wake-up call for the LA Zoo and the AZA, and can only hope that the real interests of elephants will in future be put higher on their agenda. We will in any case not rest in our efforts to push for a better life for Billy, Tina, Jewell and the many other zoo elephants who are suffering.
The ruling is long, but well worth reading. You can read or download it from this link, or download it directly here. (6.98 MB). You may also like to read the two articles linked below to get further insight and perspectives into what Judge John L. Segal concluded:
On August 25 last year ElephantVoices' Joyce Poole and Petter Granli participated in a videoconference with Ricardo Tripoli - a Representative in the Congress of Brazil. Tripoli is actively working to promote Bill 7291/2006, which would ban the use of animals in circuses throughout Brazil. Viviane Benini Cabral, Fauna Projects Legal Coordinator for the Office of the Representative, and Junia Machado, ElephantVoices' representative in Brazil, also participated. The objective of this meeting was to create an alliance between the organization and Representative Tripoli to help approve the Bill. ElephantVoices, mainly through Junia Machado, and Tripoli continue to discuss this important initiative.
Terrible conditions for circus elephants
It is estimated that there are between 35 and 40 elephants in Brazil, 23 of them in zoos (519.25 kB) and the rest in circuses. There are pictures, videos and reports on some of these circuses, and the elephants are living under terrible conditions. As some Brazilian municipalities and states have already banned the use of animals in circuses, some of these animals are being rented out to circuses in other Latin American countries. Such transport over long distance only exacerbates their suffering. You can read some more about the situation for elephants in Brazil in a previous news piece here on ElephantVoices.
If Bill 7291/2006 is approved, Brazilian circuses will have eight years to give up these animals, either sending them to zoos, sanctuaries/reserves or releasing them into their natural habitat, if that is appropriate. Most zoos in Brazil offer conditions for elephants, at least, that are far from satisfactory. We are, therefore, discussing the need to develop a place(s) to rehabilitate these elephants. Such a "sanctuary", if you will, must have enough space for these abused elephants to roam freely, have a semblance of autonomy and be allowed to interact and form natural social groups.
The situation for elephants worldwide was also discussed during the videoconference, including their geographical distribution, the estimated number of elephants in captivity, poaching of elephants for ivory and the issue of sport hunting in some African countries.
"Animals in captivity are in a situation very similar to that of someone imprisoned for life. In the circuses, they go from the pen to the circus where they perform, and again back to the pens. For them, it is a sentence of life imprisonment", stated representative Tripoli. "We will certainly become much stronger with the support of ElephantVoices, obtaining a favorable vote in the Brazilian Congress. Together, we will achieve much more".
A ban important step for elephants - and Brazil
ElephantVoices will give full support to Representative Ricardo Tripoli in pursuing the welfare of elephants in Brazil, providing articles, scientific documents and information on their behavior, their needs and all the issues related to their confinement and use in circus spectacles. By providing this support, ElephantVoices hopes to make a contribution toward this very important step for the country and its elephants.
The environmental representative had a decisive role in the discussions about this Bill and was the head of a task force made up by the organized civil society. The Bill was approved by the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee and also by the Education and Culture Committee. He was also the leader in this Committee of a group defending animals, presenting a petition with more than 100.000 signatures in favor of this Bill approval. When the Bill was in the Constitution and Justice Committee, Tripoli was the spokesperson and stressed in his report the cruelty associated with the use of animals in circuses. The report was approved without amendments. He also made a request to include this project in the agenda and believes that the Bill will be voted in 2011. "This victory in the animal protection movement is the victory of life," stresses Tripoli.
The Representative states that the next step to take is related to people that have farms and want to keep wild animals, as "private zoos".
The video from the conference is produced by Ricardo Tripoli's office. The version to the left is with subtitles in English, the one to the right with subtitles in Portuguese.
About Representative Ricardo Tripoli
Ricardo Tripoli has played a very important role as the voice and the vote of all forms of life and environment in the Brazilian Congress. Besides his decisive participation in the discussion about the Bill banning the use of animals in circuses, he has been active in other fields:
Vice-President of the Environment and Sustainable Development Committee of the House of Representatives, the Fauna Coordinator of the Environment Parliamentary Group in the Brazilian Congress and Vice-Leader of his party, PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) in the House of Representatives. Tripoli had a key role in the consolidation of the National Policy on Climate Changes when he was the chairman of the National Congress Special Mixed Committee on Climate Changes.
As a State Representative, he authored the State Code on Animal Protection, Law n. 11.977/05 and obtained its approval. In the beginning of his term as Representative, Tripoli presented Bill 215/07, creating the Federal Code on Animal Welfare that is presently being analysed in the Federal Congress, a pioneer proposal that introduces the welfare concept to several activities involving animal breeding and animal experiments. "Animals do not speak, they cannot communicate, call the authorities nor defend their rights. It is our duty to speak and act on their behalf!"
More recently, Tripoli has become strongly opposed against the environmental setbacks included in the Government's proposal in the so-called "reform" of the Forestry Code. He was against the pardon granted to the ones who had already deforested their properties (biomes of brazilian biodiversity) and demanded that the Judiciary Power and the academia be heard, but unfortunately this did not happen and the final report that was approved benefits those responsible for the devastation. He is now getting ready to fight for changes in the final text when the subject is taken to the Plenary. Tripoli stresses that those responsible for this setback, the Government party and its allies, seem to forget that human life depends strictly on water availability. "Without the forest there is no water, without water there are no animals, without wild animals both the forest and the water will die. With no animals, forest and water, agriculture will also be impaired and human life will no longer be feasible".
Ever since our fascinating visit to Sri Lanka in 2003 we have been following the elephant situation on this beautiful island with increasing anxiety. Forgive us for naively thinking that a Buddhist society with a value system that recognises non-human animals as an equal life form would take better care of elephants than others. In truth, the way in which elephants in the wild AND in captivity are managed and cared for in Sri Lanka is in desperate need of improvement. Indeed, in August this year Sri Lankan wildlife veterinarians went on strike to protest the mismanagement of elephants.
In this day and age of Internet communication, every article published is in the global domain. The appalling stories appearing online do not give confidence in the Government of Sri Lanka's ability to either care for the well being of elephants held captive, nor to secure a future for the wild members of a species so culturally and touristically important to the country. Both the Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa, and Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife, S. M. Chandrasena, must be informed that people all over the world care about what is happening and that, in addition to the purely conservation and ethical concerns, the continuing mismanagement and mistreatment of elephants has the potential to jeopardize Sri Lanka's tourism industry and must be addressed. The Ministers must also be informed that many of the human-elephant conflict interventions are merely exacerbating the situation. We believe both Ministers should be approached following a Cabinet reshuffle 22 Nov., since Minister Rajapaksa continue to be responsible for tourist-related issues, while S. M. Chandrasena's Ministry from the same date is responsible for Department of Wildlife Conservation.
The death of a Magnificent Tusker - and a call to action
This article and call to action is prompted by the terrible news of a magnificent tusker, "Parakrama", who was killed last week while being translocated, a practice that has led to numerous other heart-breaking elephant tragedies in Sri Lanka. Our readers may remember the story of "the lone battle of a four-legged Brigadiere," for example, who after being translocated, took to the sea, was towed in by the Navy, only to be found dead weeks later having fallen into a well. Like the "Brigadiere", the death of Parakrama has led to headlines around the world, and on Sri Lanka: Tusker tragedy prompts calls for safer transportation and Death of a tusker.
At the time of the incident, we felt that the news of Parakrama's death was just too upsetting to share through ElephantVoices. On reflection, however, and after many emails back and forth with our Sri Lankan colleagues, we decided to post one of many articles last week on Facebook. Parakrama, one of the country's few remaining tuskers, had been called a "National Treasure." His death is a symbol of Sri Lanka's many elephant conservation and welfare woes, and his passing at the hands of the Department of Wildlife Conservation must serve as a wake-up call. Accidents can happen, of course, but in our opinion there are far too many mistakes being made in the management of Sri Lanka's elephants.
No more superficial fixes - long-term solutions needed
More than 50 people and 228 elephants, an estimated 5% of the remaining wild population, were killed last year as a consequence of conflict. Translocating one elephant after another around the country, putting up fences that cause elephants to starve, and "resettling" elephants by driving them to new locations will not solve the problem. Human-elephant conflict is a land use issue that cannot be solved by piecemeal actions of the Department of Wildlife Conservation alone, especially when inspired by misled political pressure. There is an urgent need to come up with long-term solutions, which can only be found by engaging the country's many experienced conservationists, scientists, veterinarians and naturalists as well as individuals representing the Ministries governing land, settlement, agriculture, water and forestry. Lasting solutions must be found and new policies set for land use in order to halt Sri Lanka's further decline into a destructive cycle of violence between people and elephants - with elephants the ultimate losers.
Elephants will continue to try to live in the manner in which they have evolved. Therefore we urge the authorities to include elephant behaviour and movements patterns, and the role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems, as a starting point. With open dialogue and a more holistic and compassionate approach Sri Lanka can find workable solutions for the country's wild elephant population that offers hope for a better, kinder, more sustainable future for people as well as elephants. With the current World Bank project focusing on these issues there is no better time than the present to formulate new policies.
Sri Lanka's elephants and the people of Sri Lanka deserve and need to co-exist in a mutually beneficial way. Parakrama's death must not be in vain.
Please write to Basil Rajapaksa and S. M. Chandrasena to express your concerns: Basil Rajapaksa, Minister of Economic Development, Ministry of Economic Development Presidential Secretariat Colombo 1 Office: Jagath/Aruna - for meetings/appointments, tel: +94-11-2333268, Fax: +94-11-2438045, E-mail: arunakgap(at)yahoo.com), Political Secretary, tel: 94-777445560
S. M. Chandrasena, Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife, Ministry of Agrarian Services and Wildlife. Govijana Mandiraya, Rajamalwatte, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka, Fax #: +94-11 2887480 (direct).
Better treatment of captive elephants, no more exports
The Sri Lankan Government must also introduce legislation to protect elephants in captivity, as such laws are currently lacking. For example, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage has become a haphazard breeding ground for elephants without proper plans for the future well being of these individuals. People in high places have taken decisions that have led to these babies being abducted from their Pinnawala mothers and gifted to temples or individuals, or sent to the Dehiwala Zoo in Colombo.
Many of the privately owned elephants are malnourished, lonely and abused. Those in the Dehiwala Zoo stand restrained, on concrete, biting their chains, straining against them and swaying in stereotypic behavior. Some of these individuals have been routinely shuffled about between facilities while others have been exported to foreign zoos with callous disregard for the special bonds that exist between elephants.
Since 2002 baby elephants have been shipped to zoos in China, Japan, Croatia and the Republic of Korea; New Zealand is next in line. US Zoos, too, including the National Zoo in Washington DC, are now eyeing Pinnawala as a source of elephants to fill their new exhibits. Indeed Minister Rajapaksa, himself, handed over the babies in Korea. Are foreign zoos really an appropriate destination for baby elephants, an Appendix I listed species, who should be properly cared for on Sri Lanka? We urge the Sri Lanka authorities to address these issues putting the well being of individual elephants before profit and politics. Elephants are intelligent, emotional and social beings not mere commodities to "gift" and do with what we will.
These photos are taken in Dehiwala Zoo (National Zoological Gardens, Colombo) during the last two years, most of them in August 2010. The smallest elephant, Indi, was abducted from her mother in Pinnawala. Joe, the only African elephant, is separated from the others by a wall, which he must reach over to obtain the physical contact fundamental to an elephant's wellbeing. The photographs speak for themselves of the desperation and pain these individuals suffer day in and day out.
The new World Bank project mentioned in the article linked from the screenshot to the right could very well be an important milestone in the efforts towards conserving Sri Lanka's elephants for future generations. On the other hand - new roads through protected areas without proper environmental assessment is yet another serious threat to Sri Lanka's elephants and sensitive ecosystems. As a side note it could be said that the title "The road to destroying natural ecosystems" easily could have been seen covering the ongoing discussion about a proposed new road through Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Hopefully both the Sri Lankan and Tanzanian governments will realize what's at stake before it is too late. Both countries have a lot to lose!
Do any of the Honorable Commissioners really believe that an animal as enormous and powerful as an elephant can be made to follow "guidance" by merely waving a small stick with a metal hook and point? The only reason why an elephant can be "guided" by a bullhook is because she was trained with its sharp steel point and hook and is reminded frequently of the pain it can inflict if she disobeys. By its very nature, a bullhook is a negative re-enforcer - causing the elephant to move away from the source of pain. Rewards are positive re-enforcers. In an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the voting Andrew Smith, of the Elephant Managers Association, demonstrates clearly that he does not know the difference between positive and negative re-enforcement. Strange.