Lammie the lonely elephant

Johannesburg - Lammie the lonely elephant remains alone in her arid enclosure despite animal welfare specialists’ renewed calls on The Johannesburg City Council to relocate the grieving elephant from the Johannesburg Zoo to a free-roaming area after the recent death of her partner Kinkel.  

The NSPCA, Ban Animal Trading, EMS Foundation and Humane Society International - Africa have rejected the zoo’s plans to introduce another elephant as this would necessitate breaking up a bonded group with associated trauma and merely introduce another elephant to a sterile existence in the zoo.

Some of the groups are negotiating with the zoo to have Lammie reintroduced into the wild at a reserve where a herd of previously-captive elephants roam freely. There are currently two possible locations for Lammie to go, both have been successful in rewilding captive elephants.

The EMS Foundation has offered to cover all the costs for Lammie’s relocation.

NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit Inspector Irinka Schröder said "the NSPCA would support this initiative," provided all welfare concerns are adequately addressed. 

"What we do not support is for the zoo to break up a captive herd in order to provide Lammie with a companion and just perpetuate the issue,” Schröder says.

However the Zoo says it has no intention of releasing Lammie, instead, Joburg Zoo general manager Tshepang Makganye stated that they are looking to introduce another elephant cow to the zoo. The zoo has not provided the additional enrichments for Lammie, which they promised to do after Kinkel's death.

A global petition to free Lammie has acquired more than 100 000 signatures and a  program of peaceful demonstrations will continue at the zoo premises, with BAN Animal Trading (BAT) stating, "there will be more protesting" in the weeks to come. BAT has also called on members of the public to join in the cause by writing to the Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba asking him to agree to relocate Lammie.

Makganye said the zoo is against Lammie's relocation as "educating the less privileged to understand our natural heritage [is] part of saving the elephant population from being killed.” 

It is however unclear how keeping one animal in captivity will save any wild elephants.

Elephant specialist disagree with Makganye. 

"Watching a lone, depressed elephant in a barren enclosure does nothing to educate people that do not have access to a game reserve. Keeping an elephant like Lammie in a captive zoo facility does nothing to promote South Africa in the light it should - as a progressive conservation authority," said elephant specialist Dr Marion Garaï.

Michele Pickover from the EMS Foundation added that it "teaches people the opposite of what it means to respect wildlife. It teaches people that it is acceptable to cage wildlife for amusement."  

While there is no conservation value to captive elephants, there are notable welfare issues including shorter life spans and being more disease-prone in captivity. 

According to the zoo, Kinkel had been suffering from colic for almost 10 years before dying suddenly in September this year. 

Further concerns over general animal welfare at the zoo have  been raised. Commenting after a demonstration this past weekend, BAT director Smaragda Louw said they were shocked to witness how the animals were treated with total indifference.

"During the four hours we were sitting in front of Lammie's enclosure, nobody bothered to check in on her or any of the other animals in nearby enclosures. Anybody can just walk into the zoo and harass or harm the animals as they like.

"At 8-o-clock, when the zoo had already closed to the public, no-one showed up to see how Lammie was doing or check that all visitors had left"

All of the elephants Lammie has known in her lifetime have died in captivity. Her parents, Dolly and Jumbo, were caught in the wild and moved into captivity in the 1970s where they died. Lammie's brother, born in captivity, also died in shortly after being sold to a zoo in France.

Elephants are sentient creatures that thrive in large family structures with very strong social bonds. The death of an individual can have a large impact on elephant family members.

Conservation Action Trust