US Will Fight to Defeat Protections for Wild Baby Elephants

US Will Fight to Defeat Protections for Wild Baby Elephants

US Zoos Reportedly Plan Another Controversial Import of Wild Elephant Calves

Contact: Will Anderson,, 206-715-6414

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (August 26, 2019) In Defense of Animals has denounced moves by the United States to block an international trade rule that would protect wild elephants from being captured and sent to captive facilities. The U.S. delegation at the CITES global wildlife trade summit voted last week to defeat a proposal which would end the practice of separating traumatized, often very young wild African elephants from their mothers and shipping them to zoos in the U.S. and elsewhere. Tomorrow’s vote comes at a time when U.S. zoos are said to be preparing another import of elephants from Africa.

“U.S. zoos pose a serious threat to wild elephant wellbeing and survival of mothers and their calves,” says Fleur Dawes of In Defense of Animals. “It is irresponsible and cruel for zoos to fight to continue stealing elephant individuals from the wild while causing others to die prematurely in captivity. If the zoos succeed in blocking the ban through the U.S. and E.U. delegations, they will have guaranteed that the horrific trade in live wild elephant infants will continue. This is simply unacceptable.”

Although the proposal temporarily passed a first vote last week at the CITES Conference of the Parties, it must be finalized and officially adopted this week. The delegations of the U.S. and the European Union are expected to overturn the decision, to the benefit of zoos.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plays a pivotal role in the U.S. delegation to CITES. In January 2016, under then-director Dan Ashe, the USFWS approved the controversial removal and import of 18 wild African elephants from eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) to three U.S. zoos. In January 2017, Ashe became President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the organization that represents more than 230 captive facilities around the world, including three U.S. zoos that took the wild elephants from eSwatini: Dallas, Omaha’s Henry Doorly, and Sedgwick County Zoos.

In Defense of Animals has submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the USFWS for all communications between the USFWS and AZA since the 2016 import—including while Mr. Ashe was employed at AZA—to uncover to what extent zoos and the USFWS have collaborated to oppose the wild elephant trade proposal.

“U.S. zoos are reportedly preparing another wild African elephant kidnapping following highly controversial elephant imports in 2003 and 2016,” continues Dawes. “If the U.S.defeats the ban on live elephant exports from Africa, hundreds of elephant mother-offspring will be violently forced apart, never to see each other again. The U.S. should be leading efforts to stop inflicting physical and emotional suffering on wild elephants. In Defense of Animals urges the U.S. COP18 delegation to support the measure to protect wild elephants this week and end wild imports of baby elephants to restock zoos.” 


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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 36-year history of protecting animals’ rights, welfare and habitats through education, campaigns and hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi.




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