One day you're at home, spending time with your family, getting yourself a snack and thinking about taking a nap. In an instant, your world is turned upside down. Alien beings come in and grab you, tie you up and take you away. You have no idea what's going on. You find yourself in a strange and frightening environment. You desperately want to go home.
That scenario is precisely what just happened to 18 elephants who were forcibly removed from their African homeland to spend the rest of their lives behind bars at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, the Dallas Zoo, and Wichita's Sedgwick County Zoo. These 18 represent nearly half of the entire elephant population in Swaziland.
Make that 17 elephants. One has already died in the process.
None of these elephant youngsters--15 are under the age of 12--will see their families or homelands ever again.
In a spin that would impress even P.T. Barnum, the zoos are portraying themselves as the good guys ... yet the transfer was done in the utmost secrecy and despite--or to thwart --a pending court proceeding. The elephants were jammed into crates and shoved into the cargo hold of a 747. The massive noise, vibrations and utterly alien feeling of becoming airborne must have been terrifying.
By the time you read this, these bewildered beings will be in a zoo enclosure. For them, the sights, smells and sounds of the African bush are gone forever. Memories of such things will become hazy and distant during the long winter months when frigid temperatures will keep these subtropical animals locked indoors.
But elephants have exceptional memories--they truly never forget. For the rest of their lives, these traumatized animals will long for the wide open spaces they left behind. They will sorely miss the counsel of their aunties and roughhousing with their cousins. They'll never again know the delights of the rainy season or using a marula tree as a back scratcher. Even though wild elephants may walk and explore for up to 30 miles every day, their entire world has now been reduced to an area that can be measured in square feet. Make no mistake: These elephants know that they are not where they belong.
That any zoo can support the elephant slave trade exemplifies the industry's entrenched culture of duplicity. Breeding elephants in captivity has been a colossal failure. For every elephant born in a zoo another two die. According to investigative reporter Michael J. Berens, the overall infant mortality rate for elephants in zoos is an appalling 40 percent--nearly triple the rate of elephants in the wild.
The actions taken by the Dallas Zoo, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and Wichita's Sedgwick County Zoo have done nothing to help elephants but will irrefutably harm them for decades to come. All three zoos should be roundly condemned by everyone who cares about elephants.