Freedom beckoning at last for Pretoria Zoo elephant

Published Mar 13, 2023


Johannesburg - The EMS Foundation and the Pro Elephant Network have been in discussions with Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy since December 16, 2020, about the future of Charlie, the lone male elephant at the Pretoria National Zoological Garden.

The SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) recently announced that it was pursuing options for the retirement of Charlie the Elephant from the zoo to a suitable wildlife sanctuary or similar setting.

According to Megan Carr, head researcher for the EMS Foundation and lead for the elephants project, the Pro Elephant Network, which consists of the world’s leading elephant experts, and through their academic studies and decades of working with elephants, they have illustrated to the minister that Charlie has been in captivity since he was very young and that it was time to offer him the chance at living a more natural life.

She said Charlie spent many years of his life in a circus and then two decades as a zoo elephant.

"He has witnessed the deaths of four female elephants who shared his enclosure at the Pretoria Zoo, Pumbi, Thandi, Landa and his own calf, Dineo.

"Charlie has been offered an opportunity that will allow for the best possible outcomes.

"He will be provided with expert elephant care for the rest of his natural life at no cost to the South African government, SANBI, the Pretoria Zoo, or the South African taxpayer."

Carr added that the minister and the South African Biodiversity Institute made an announcement on July 29, 2022, that they had made the ground-breaking decision to allow Charlie to retire.

"We have received the decision well, and in order to make the right choice about the correct retirement plan for Charlie, the Pro Elephant Network and the EMS Foundation appointed eight elephant experts who assessed Charlie’s mental well-being and his physical health during 2022 and last year.

"The eight world-renowned elephant experts presented their findings in reports to Creecy on March 6, 2023, which indicated that Charlie will require expert rehabilitation in a secure natural environment with elephant experts who will assist him to reintegrate into a wilder space at his own pace. This rehabilitation process could take years," said Carr.

Reacting to a petition that garnered more than 41 000 signatures, the public expressed their opinion on the decision to free Charlie on social media platforms. Here are their comments:

Catherine Van Vuuren said: "This negotiation is taking far too long! Poor Charlie! I cannot believe that he is still at the Pretoria Zoo. Honestly, how much longer must he live in limbo like this?

Darren Clements. said: “I hope all goes well, and I wish you all the best of luck.“

Zelinfelder said: "Charlie, we love you. Hang in there; your freedom is nearby.

Janice Malam said: “Such a gorgeous elephant; please help him now before any more of his precious life is wasted. Good luck, baby.”

Rose Brooks said: "Get this poor, deserving creature out now before anyone can throw any spanners in the works."

Charlie, an African male elephant, was born in 1982 in Hwange National Park. He was captured and sent to South Africa's Brian Boswell Circus in 1984 before being transferred to the National Zoological Gardens on July 30, 2001.

The elephant will be 43 years old this year and has spent the majority of his life in captivity in an enclosure. This would be the first time in his life that he felt liberated.

The Star