The EMS Foundation commends the ground breaking and forward thinking decision reached by SANBI and Minister Barbara Creecy with regard to Charlie. We will continue to offer our unwavering support as we continue our nineteen month transparent process with SANBI to establish the best possible future for Charlie with the support of the elephants experts from the Pro Elephant Network.

Image Credit: EMS Foundation November 2021.

©EMS Foundation 2022. All Rights Reserved.





The impacts on levels of illegal killing of elephants since the closure of China’s domestic market in 2017

Since 2015, when Chinese authorities first started to talk about imposing a domestic ivory ban (following on from then-US-president Obama indicating that the US would close its market), we saw ivory prices starting to fall. They peaked at about $1,200/kg in 2014 and the latest available data suggests prices for raw ivory at roughly $700/kg. 

The latter is still a lot of money, however, the risk: reward ratio remains loaded in favour of poaching. Thus, as expected, we have seen a significant slowing in the rate of poaching since 2014, but the levels of poaching remain high. 

The relationship between the ivory price and elephant poaching remains complex. It was evidently positive that China acted to close its domestic trade. It is pointless to impose an international ban but allow domestic trade, as that simply creates an incentive to illegally move ivory into a country with a large domestic market. Border anti-trafficking enforcement costs are simply too high when a legal domestic trade undermines a global legal trade. The problem remains, though, that if only the largest domestic markets close down but neighbouring markets remain open, then the problem is reduced but also displaced. 

For elephant poaching to stop entirely, the market value of ivory has to be eliminated.[1] That can only be achieved through global collective action – elephant range states act simultaneously to dispose of ivory stockpiles and stop signalling to the market that they intend to sell ivory; countries demanding ivory need to stop consuming it. 

Even if this occurred, however, the problem of stockpiling ivory remains. The disjunct between online ivory sales data and seizure data had indicated that organised criminal groups were likely stockpiling ivory for various reasons. We suspect that this was because they were ‘banking on extinction’ – literally funding poaching to create private ivory stockpiles, which they could then drip feed to the market once elephants had become extinct, or a legal trade reignited (or both). Domestic ivory bans should therefore be indefinite and complete. Unfortunately, if range states keep talking about selling their ivory, the incentive for stockpiling remains.[2]

[1] Chris Alden and Ross Harvey, ‘The case for burning ivory’, Project Syndicate, accessed 1 June 2022. 

[2] Ross Harvey, Chris Alden, and Yu Shan Wu, “Speculating a Fire Sale: Options for Chinese Authorities in Implementing a Domestic Ivory Trade Ban,” Ecological Economics 141 (2017): 22–31,





The Republic of Zimbabwe will host an African elephant summit in the Hwange National Park from Monday 23rd to Thursday 26th May 2022.  

The summit will also officially announce the inauguration of the aerial elephant survey which has been spearheaded by the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) to take place in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The survey will begin in July and end in August 2022, Mr Darren Potgieter, a South African, has been appointed as the aerial co-ordinator

In 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants.  Today there are less than half a million.  The elephants have primarily been killed for their ivory. The human population has tripled in the elephant range states since 1970.   In October 1989, at the seventh meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP7) governments banned the international trade in ivory. 

The Zimbabwean Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality, Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu has said that the primary purpose for the Elephant Conservation Summit is in preparation for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species 19th Conference of Parties (CITES CoP19) scheduled to take place from the 14th – 25th of November 2022 in Panama.  

Young elephants being captured by officials in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe for export to zoos in China.

Image Credit:

According to Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management representatives from fourteen African Countries, as well as from China and Japan, are scheduled to attend the summit. Media reports claim that the summit will highlight the negative impact of the ban on the international trade in ivory.  The Ministerial declaration will contain calls by African governments for CITES to lift the 1989 ban on the international ivory trade to allow countries like Zimbabwe to sell ivory and reduce the elephant population.


Juvenile elephants from Zimbabwe at Hangzhou Safari Park 

Image Credit: Chunmei Hu –

Zimbabwe has publicly voiced frustration at not being allowed to export live elephants to zoos in China or the United Arab Emirates or to sell raw ivory to countries where ivory is still being utilized such as Japan. 

On the 17th of May 2022 Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said that that Zimbabwe is prepared to operate outside CITES regulations because “All possibilities of us selling our excess live elephants to those who want to populate their areas have been cut under CITES. They have introduced an amendment to the current CITES provisions which says we can only sell to the African countries most of whom have these elephants in abundance.”

Image Credit: Associated Press / Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi  –

On Monday 17th of May 2022, envoys from the Netherlands, Germany, France Britain, Switzerland, Canda and the United States were given a tour of the ivory stockpiles in Zimbabwe by the Zimbabwe National Parks and Management Authority.

Zimbabwe is seeking international support to be allowed to sell its stockpile of seized ivory stating that $600 million it expects to earn is urgently needed for the conservation of its rapidly growing elephant population which it describes as “dangerous”.   Zimbabwe reportedly has 130 tons of ivory and 6 tons of rhino horn.  

It is important to note that the stockpile includes seized ivory  which may not be sold in terms of CITES regulations and that the value of ivory stockpiles in Zimbabwe and Namibia are greatly overstated in order to justify the sales.  


In June, in 2008, in Mombasa in Kenya the African Elephant Coalition consisting of West, Central and East African states joined forces to support the a moratorium on the ivory trade. The African Elephant Coalition represents the majority of African nations. 

Two months ago the African Elephant Coalition called for the closure of ivory markets in Japan, saying that they contribute to the illegal killing of elephants in Africa at the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora conference held in Lyon in France. 

Dieudonne Yameogo, Director of Wildlife and Hunting Resources in Burkina Faso, stated that the legal markets offered an opportunity for laundering ivory and therefore contribute to the illegal trade and to the illegal killing of elephants. 

In 2016 a recommendation was adopted to close ivory markets in ivory-consuming countries such as Singapore, the United Kingdom, China, the United States of America and Japan. CITES resolution 18.117 states that “Countries that have not closed their domestic markets in raw and worked ivory are requested to report to the Secretariart for consideration by the Standing Committee on what measures they are taking to ensure that their domestic ivory markets are not contributing to the illegal killing of elephants or to the illegal trade in ivory.”  

Japan was singled out as a country that had done nothing to close its ivory markets. 

The African Elephant Coalition stated that when CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP19) takes place in Panama in November, it must uphold resolution 18.117. 


The Standing Committee of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at its meeting in Lyon,France on the 10th of March 2022, agreed that countries must continue to report on their domestic ivory markets.  

Israel, the United States of America, the EU and its member states, China, the United Kingdom, Gabon and Burkina Faso called for Decision 18.117 to 18.119 to be renewed in November in Panama. 


The Zimbabwean conservation system was conceived during the period of colonialism and reflects the authoritarian norms of those eras, which victimized humans and other animals. Zimbabwe is also well known for its stance on the commercial exploitation of wildlife.

The foreign envoys visiting Zimbabwe and those people who choose to support the government’s official stance on elephant management will be aware of developments and concerns about Zimbabwe’s compliance with its international human rights obligations under the administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwaand State violence against government critics

There has been no accountability for abuses by security forces, including the August 2018 post-election violence and killings and rape during the January 2019 protests.  Abductions, torture, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses against opposition parties politicians and activists have not been meaningfully investigated. 

Corruption in Zimbabwe has become endemic within its political, private and civil sectors.  Zimbabwe along with Honduras, Iraq and Cambodia ranks 157th of 180 countries in the 2021 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions index. 

Zimbabwe’s human rights situation continued to decline in 2020 under Emmerson Mnangagwa’s presidency.  Unidentified assailants, suspected to be state security agents, abducted and tortured more than 70 critics of the government during 2020.

Security forces also continued to commit arbitrary arrests, violent assaults, abductions, torture and other abuses against opposition politicians, dissidents and activists. 

The United States, United Kingdom and the European Union all renewed targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe for serious rights abuses by security forces, corruption, and failure to ensure justice for past abuses. 

Zimbabwe has a history of non-compliance with CITES. Based on similar patterns of denial and secrecy by the responsible authorities in Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean government,  in 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019  and from the Zimbabwean embassy in China – which all proved to be false – and assurances from the new Zimbabwe administration in 2018 that it had turned over a new leaf – Parties to CITES have sufficient cause to be sceptical. 

Considering the continuing high profile international focus on elephants, and the wealth of scientific data pointing to the extreme sociality and intelligence of elephants, it is also astounding that any government would allow elephants to be killed for their ivory. 

We are in the midst of an extinction crisis that could unravel life as we know it. Wildlife exploitation is the leading driver of marine species loss and the secondary driver of terrestrial species loss. The IPBES 2019 assessment – the most comprehensive assessment of its kind – showed that:

  • Nature’s dangerous decline is unprecedented; 
  • Species extinction rates are accelerating at alarming rates; 
  • Current global response insufficient;
  • Transformative changes is needed to restore and protect nature;
  • Opposition from vested interests can be overcome for public good;
  • 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction.

It can no longer be business as usual and it is therefore compulsory for governments, on a national and international level, to urgently shift their policy base away from consumptive utilisation and extractivism and to redefine our relationship with wildlife to bring about transformative change, harmonious co-existence, respect, one health and welfare, justice and Ubuntuness.


Today the EMS Foundation has signed a joint statement issued by the International Environmental Investigation Agency on the Zimbabwe Elephant Summit and legal ivory trade.

©The EMS Foundation 2022. All Rights Reserved.






Charlie on the 7th November 2021 Pretoria Zoo Image Credit: EMS Foundation

This statement details the timeline of the critical engagement process initiated by members of the Pro Elephant Network (PREN) and representatives of the EMS Foundation with Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment in South Africa. 

Since December 2020, at the behest of Minister Barbara Creecy, members of the Pro Elephant Network and representatives from the EMS Foundation have attempted to engage transparently with the administrators of the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) in Pretoria and representatives of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) with regards to the well-being and welfare of Charlie, the Elephant at the NZG. The NZG is part of SANBI and accordingly reports to Minister Barbara Creecy. 

Collectively, we have diligently, persistently and explicitly presented valid requests to have Charlie independently assessed by internationally renowned zoo and captive Elephant experts, for more than sixteen months. To date we have been unable to achieve a desirable result for Charlie through out engagements with SANBI and the NZG and as a result we have taken the unprecedented decision−in his best interest−to make public the details of the unsatisfactory engagement process.

The copies of the numerous communications referenced in this statement have not been included below, but we reserve the right to do so in the future. 

Initiation of Discussions in December 2020

On South Africa’s National Day of Reconciliation, the 16th of  December 2020 , members of the Pro Elephant Network (PREN) wrote an open letter of concern addressed to Minister Barbara Creecy.  The subject matter addressed the mental and physical well-being of Charlie, a solitary male Elephant living at South Africa’s flagship zoo situated in Pretoria. This letter was initiated because of numerous negative media reports about Charlie’s well-being, which were published in the media, after the sudden and tragic death of Landa, the female Elephant who had shared his enclosure. 

All members of the Pro Elephant Network strongly believe that Elephants belong in the wild and that they must be returned to the wild in all cases where this is legitimately possible. In the twenty-first century, given what is commonly known, and scientifically verified, about Elephants, there is no good reason to keep them in captivity. 

In May 2019, SANBI spokeswoman, Angeline Schwan, denied the fact that Charlie showed signs of distress after concerns had been raised about the devastating appearance of Charlie, she said that the allegations from the general public were false. “Charlie’s head-swaying is a learned behaviour from the circus life.” She said the head-swaying would never be completely unlearned; however, the zoo has tried dealing with it during the 15 years that Charlie has been at the National Zoological Gardens (NZG).  

Schwan’s statement is inaccurate.  Kaavan the solitary Elephant who was released from a zoo in Islamabad after three decades and transferred to an Elephant sanctuary in Cambodia stopped swaying and bobbing his head shortly after he arrived at the sanctuary.  His on-going physical and mental recovery is remarkable and has been widely published to a growing global audience. 

Stereotypic and atypical behaviours in Elephants can be expressed as repeated swaying of the whole body from one side to the other, weaving with the head, swinging the trunk, lifting the feet and bobbing up and down with the head. According to Elephant specialists this repetitive behaviour is a sign of frustration and sometimes even mental illness brought on by being taken away from their natural surroundings and family members and kept in cramped enclosures. 

Besides the inadequate size, the Elephant enclosure at the NZG is austere. It has been widely recorded that Charlie and Landa have suffered with complications due to sand impaction, which has resulted in colic.  Colic can be fatal in Elephants. The scientific data that we have shared with SANBI dictates that there is no Elephant enclosure anywhere in the world that is adequate for an Elephant’s needs. 

Critical Engagement Opportunity 2021

Only after further correspondences were sent to Minister Crecy, and an online public awareness petition was started, were representatives from PREN invited to attend an online meeting with representatives from SANBI and administrators from the NZG. This meeting took place on the 31st March 2021.  

At the meeting PREN representatives were invited to present scientific evidence as to why no zoo in the world is adequately equipped to exhibit Elephants. PREN representatives also took this opportunity to request an urgent Elephant expert on-site meeting at Charlie’s zoo enclosure.

One month later, following a highly publicized outcry about the dire conditions at South Africa’s flagship national zoo, on the 12th of April, another letter was sent to Minister Creecy with an offer from the EMS Foundation to rehabilitate, relocate and reintegrate Charlie into a wild system in Limpopo where Charlie’sneeds as an Elephant would be more satisfactorily met. 

This offer included the possibility of the opportunity of scientific research which would be beneficial to SANBI and to Elephants in captivity throughout the world.  The offer was also extended to the staff currently taking care of Charlie at the Zoo. All related costs would be borne by the EMS Foundation.   The EMS Foundation reiterated the fact that Charlie would need to be assessed by zoo Elephant experts prior to any decision being reached about translocating him. 

Not deterred, and in the best interests of transparency, collegiality, collaboration, the members of PREN wrote yet another letter to Minister Creecy on the 24th August 2021, noting their continued concern that there had been no meaningful or constructive follow up from the meeting held five months previously despite their on-going concern for the health and well-being of Charlie.  Furthermore, PREN members requested that two captive Elephant medical specialists be given access to Charlie as a matter of urgency. 

On Monday 11th of October 2021, representatives of the EMS Foundation were requested to attend another online meeting with representatives of SANBI and administrators from the NZG. The subject matter of the meeting, according to the agenda prescribed by the organisers, was to establish whether two independent international captive Elephant experts sponsored by the EMS Foundation could have access to Charlie in order to assess his mental and physical well-being.  

Unfortunately, the agreed upon agenda was never followed at the meeting and despite repeated requests by the EMS Foundation for clarification none has ever received to date. 

Twenty days later, on the 31st October 2021, the EMS Foundation was alerted, by members of the general public, that Charlie had been ill for a few days.  Images of him lying down in his enclosure circulated on social media.  Representatives from SANBI confirmed via WhatsApp messages that Charlie was ill with a stomach complaint.  

Charlie at the Pretoria Zoo Image Credit EMS Foundation

On the 18th November and the 8th of December 2021 respectively the EMS Foundation addressed communications to representatives of SANBI,  administrators of the NZG Zoo and the Honourable Minister Barbara Creecy setting out further details of how two named independent Elephant experts could assist SANBI.  The EMS Foundation questioned why, after a full year, an independent assessment of Charlie was being denied.  

The Failure to Engage in Good Faith

During the course of February 2022, various correspondences were delivered to administrators of the zoo.  The administrators informed the EMS Foundation that they would be carrying out a scheduled routine hour-long medical assessment of Charlie to which they extended an invitation for one of the Elephant experts to attend.  No date was given for this medical assessment, furthermore the administrators insisted that the expert be accredited in South Africa. 

This caveat was a circuitous attempt to avoid the inclusion of international zoo Elephant experts.  The administrators had, at their request, received copies of the curriculum vitae belonging to the international veterinary zoo Elephant experts sponsored by the EMS Foundation. 

The EMS Foundation addressed a response to the administrators of the zoo stating that they had, in all previous communications, clearly set out the necessity and the roles of the team of experts that would be required to assess Charlie in order to obtain a realistic and comprehensive outline of his current mental and physical health an assessment which would need to be carried out over a period of at least 48 hours. 

Senior representatives of the NSPCA confirmed during an online meeting with representatives of the EMS Foundation, held on the 14th of February 2022, that they too had been in communication with SANBI representatives from March 2021 with regard to their concerns for the welfare of Charlie.  

Furthermore, they stated that they issued warnings against the Zoo. The NSPCA representatives confirmed in the same discussion that they had attempted to gain access to Charlie in order to carry out an assessment but had met with resistance from the zoo administrators.

The NSPCA further informed representatives from the EMS Foundation that they had been given the date of the 8th of March 2022 for the scheduled hour-long medical assessment of Charlie.

Since December 2020, despite the numerous correspondences with the Minister Creecy and SANBI representatives, neither PREN or the EMS Foundation were advised that the NSPCA was concerned about Charlie nor that this welfare organisation was trying to gain access to Charlie. Similarly, no specified date for the medical examination been offered to the EMS Foundation or to any member of PREN.

The NSPCA was given a definite date for the routine scheduled medical assessment which allowed them the opportunity to mandate a South African veterinarian to act on their behalf.

Unfortunately, after more than a year of stalling and properly engaging, the EMS Foundation felt exasperated in their objective to communicate transparently with representatives of SANBI in order to facilitate the urgent medical expertise and independent assessment that Charlie requires.  

The EMS Foundation was therefore left with no other option and sought immediate legal relief in the hope that communications from their legal representatives would be taken more seriously.

Thus, on the 18th of February 2022, Cullinan and Associates, lawyers acting on behalf of the EMS Foundation, communicated with representatives of SANBI and the zoo.  Despite the urgency and tight deadlines, the lawyers acting on behalf of SANBI finally responded to Cullinan and Associates, this letter was received on the 3rd March 2022. 

On Saturday the 5th of March 2022, Cullinan and Associates wrote a communication to the SANBI lawyers, to which we have not yet had the pleasure of a comprehensive response.  

A Traumatised Elephant in the Court of Public Opinion

Charlie was born in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe in 1982, he was captured as a youngster and trained to perform in the Brian Boswell Circus.  This circus owner and staff appeared in court on animal cruelty charges more specifically, contravention of the Animal Protection Act 71 of 1962.  These charges included the following acts of cruelty which were caught on camera, beating, chaining, confining and not providing sufficient water and shade to the elephants.

Charlie arrived at the zoo on the 30th of July 2001 on loan from the Brian Boswell Circus, he has therefore been in captivity in the zoo for almost twenty-one years.  

Besides experiencing the trauma of being forcibly removed and separated from his mother, family and community, Charlie was transported to another country and then subjected to cruel, spirit-breaking ‘training’ to perform tricks in a circus for more than a decade. Based on well-developed scientific knowledge of elephants, their social and emotional complexity and cognitive abilities, this practice undoubtedly causes immense trauma and is unquestionably cruel. 

Once forcibly captured, elephants used in circuses are subjected to absolute control and dominance, social and physical deprivation and often psychological and physical violence. A variety of tools and methods that cause intense distress, pain, and injury are used to limit elephant behaviour and movement. Bullhooks—wooden poles with a curved metal hook at one end—are used to inflict pain on sensitive areas of the elephants for the process of “breaking,” a long-held tradition that is grounded in principles of physical and emotional coercion and negative reinforcement to obtain absolute control.

Charlie has also witnessed several Elephants in his meagre enclosure die prematurely at the zoo.  

A wealth of scientific data is in existence substantiating the extreme sociality and intelligence of Elephants. Such traits make Elephants in captivity are particularly vulnerable to stress and trauma and the long-term consequences thereof. It is well documented that Elephants suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders in brain damage.

According to his most recent physical medical records Charlie also suffers from colic which can be fatal to Elephants−his collapse in October 2021 should serve as a stark warning.

Charlie is being denied the right to the best Elephant expertise available in the world. If he is well enough, he has been offered the opportunity of living the remainder of his life as a free Elephant with other Elephants if he so chooses. 

Why is the Minister (and her representatives) unreasonably denying this lifeline and opportunity to Charlie?

Charlie ill at the Pretoria Zoo on the 30th of October 2021 Image Credit Rochelle Liebenberg

©The EMS Foundation 2022. All Rights Reserved.





1st April 2022

Excerpt from this Report:


The full history of the contentious trade deal involving wild elephants caught in Namibia and exported to the United Arab Emirates into a life of captivity is well documented in the previously published Report by the EMS Foundation.

One the 4th of March 2022, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums published their position statement on the import of wild Namibian elephants from Namibia to Al Ain Zoo. They stated that they were not able to determine if all the requirements of WAZA’s Code of Ethics have been met.

The European Associations of Zoos and Aquaria have published their official opinion regarding the aforementioned trade of wild-caught elephants. The EAZA Elephant Taxon Advsiory Group who oversees the African elephant EEP has repeatedly and clearly informed Al Ain Zoo that no import of wild caught elephants was either necessary or desirable.

It is, however impossible to believe that all EAZA executives were unaware of this particular acquisition of wild elephants. The close associations between EAZA and the Al Ain Zoo and Sharjah Safari Park, are highlighted in this document. Tim Husband stated clearly that elephants were being procured from Namibia for export to the United Arab Emirates in 2017.

Furthermore, the designing, planning and building of the aforementioned elephant exhibitions took place in the UAE over several years at a cost of millions of dollars and these projects would not have gone unnoticed. Questions must have been raised about where the African elephants were being procured and imported from.

At the CITES 74th Standing Committee Meeting held on the 9th of March 2022, Namibia’s interpretation of CITES regulations pertaining to exporting elephants out of their range states was discussed at length under agenda item number 50.

Once again CITES inconsistency in the treatment of the export of live wild elephants listed under Appendix I or Appendix II has been highlighted and is a matter of concern. Senegal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Congo, Israel and the United Kingdom representatives to mention but a few, do not agree with Namibia’s interpretation of exports of live African elephants to a non-range state.

This matter was not concluded and will be taken up at CITES CoP19 which will held in Panama in November 2022.

However, in the meantime Namibia has suggested that there are 20 remaining wild elephants that apparently were sold on auction in 2021 who will be captured once the permits are concluded.

Image Credit:

©The EMS Foundation 2022. All Rights Reserved.



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