Lobbying for Wild Animals




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.






“Captive elephants lack the very foundation of elephant life.” Dr Keith Lindsay

Based on the body of overwhelming scientific evidence, South Africa took the commendable decision in 2008 to ban the capture of elephants from the wild for the purposes of captivity and trade under the terms of the National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa (2008). The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission African Elephant Specialist Group opposes the removal of African elephants from the wild for any captive use. This position was reaffirmed at the group’s meeting in Pretoria, South Africa in July 2019.

On 6 September 2019, elephant specialists from around Africa and the world participated in an Indaba in South Africa, ‘Taking Elephants out of the Room’, to scrutinize the science, policy and welfare issues related to elephants in captivity. The overwhelming conclusion of the Captive Elephant Indaba was that no elephants should be placed in captivity and elephants currently in captivity should be rewilded.

Trading in Elephants is unconscionable and fails to recognise the sheer intelligence, sentience and complex social structures of Elephants.

Elephants are among the most social animals on the planet and keeping them in captivity and zoos is contrary to their nature and welfare. In captivity these Namibian elephants will have no agency. They have been removed from their context and will be forced to live unnatural, isolated, sad and denigrated lives.

Image Credit: Gerrie Odendaal / Conservation Namibia

©The EMS Foundation 2022. All Rights Reserved.






The EMS Foundation has been informed that rare wild caught Namibian desert adapted elephants, as part of a clearly commercial transaction, were transported from the containment area on the GoHuntNamibia Safari property located in Gobabis in Namibia and loaded onto a Fly Pro Moldovan Cargo charter plane last night (4th March 2022), at Hosea Kutako International Airport for two captive destinations in the UAE – likely the Al Ain Zoo−a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)−and Sharjah Safari. The flight landed at Sharjah at five am local time.

It goes without question that there are serious welfare and ethical concerns related to the capture, restraint, trade and captivity of elephants. Elephant ethologists, behaviourists and scientists are clear – elephants do not belong in captivity. 

Even the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSN AfESG) does not support the removal of wild African elephants for captive use. In an official statement they clarified, “Believing there to be no direct benefit for in situ conservation of African elephants, the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission does not endorse the removal of African elephants from the wild for any captive use.”

Legal Opinion obtained by the EMS Foundation, found that it would not be lawful for the Namibia CITES Management Authority to issue an export permit under either Appendix I or Appendix II of CITES, nor for a country outside of the range states for Loxodonta Africana to issue an import permit, particularly because Appendix II does not apply to the export and the available evidence indicates that exporting the Namibian wild caught elephants to an ex situ programme cannot meet the requirements of Article III for trade in Appendix I species, particularly the non-detriment criterion.

In a statement, the Namibian authorities confirmed that they had captured wild elephants which were sold on auction in 2021. They confirmed that some of these elephants will be exported to a foreign country. “We are signatories to CITES and we are aware of the international statues, the international law that governs CITES member states.  Our law does not allow an animal to be exported to a country where we know the environment is not conducive for this animal.” 

A number of urgent complaints and letters of concern have been sent by the NGO sector to CITES, and the Namibian and UAE authorities about the cruel capture, confinement and trade of wild elephants for captivity purposes. For example:

  • In December 2020 PREN members highlighted their concerns relating to the proposals to offer live elephants for commercial sale captured from regions of Namibia. 
  • On World Elephant Day on the 12th August 2021, PREN members questioned whether the live wild elephants mentioned in official statements would be sold internationally or whether they were captured for purposes of in situ conservation purposes and whether any of the captured elephants would be held in captivity. 
  • On the 21st September 2021, PREN members urgently directed communications to the CITES Secretary General, to the CITES Legal Affairs and Compliance officer, the Chief of the CITES Science Unit of the Secretariat, the Chair of the CITES Standing Committee and the Chair of the CITES Animals Committee.
  • On the 27th of October 2021, PREN members urgently requested that the CITES Secretariat approach the Namibian government urging the government to comply with CITES regulations and provisions. 
  • On the 18th of February 2022 18th of February 2022 PREN members urgently requested that the Acting Director Biodiversity Department CITES UAE, Namibian CITES Authority, CITES Secretary General, CITES Legal and Compliance Officer, Chair of the CITES Standing Committee and the Chair of the CITES Animals Committee halt the export of the wild caught Namibian elephants and ensure that they are returned to the wild as soon as possible.  

Shamefully, and indicative of the lack of accountability and transparency, there has been no official response to any of these letters from the CITES Secretariat, the UAE or Namibia. 


The EMS Foundation takes note of the inclusion of the wild caught Namibian elephant subject matter on agenda item number 50 at the CITES Standing Committee 74th meeting in Lyon which will be held from the 7th to the 11th of March 2022.  At the very least we demand that the CITES Standing Committee take a clear position on the capture of wild elephants in Namibia. 

Amongst many other matters that require careful consideration, the CITES Standing Committee will the discuss the issue which is listed as agenda item 50, the legal opinion on CITES rules on exports of live African elephants from Namibia submitted by Burkina Faso. The published findings of this legal opinion are as follows: 

  1. Namibia’s elephant population is listed in CITES Appendix II, subject to annotation 2. The annotation clearly states that it allows trade in live elephants from Namibia exclusively for in situ conservation programmes, but by inference not to other locations or for any other purpose. 
  2. Any previous or future export of live wild-caught elephants from Namibia to a destination outside the natural range of the species therefore does not comply with the provisions of CITES. 
  3. The last paragraph of annotation 2 does not apply to live wild-caught specimens and any interpretation implying that live elephants may be exported from Namibia to ex situ locations is contrary to the Convention and the fundamental principles of interpretation of treaties. Given that Namibia’s elephant population is listed in CITES Appendix II, which is subject to a legally binding restriction on live trade, in force since 2003, limiting such trade to in situ conservation programmes only, exports of live wild-caught elephants from Namibia should only be permissible to destinations within the natural range of the species”

As a member of the Species Survival Network (SSN)the EMS Foundation also supports the SSN input on Issue 50 – the definition of the term ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ (Report of AC SC74 Doc.). 


The CITES Parties and the CITES Secretariat, despite flagrant non-compliance and numerous communications from the NGO sector as well as legal opinions provided to them from recognised legal firms in Switzerland and South Africa have failed to act or address the capture and sale of wild elephants into captivity. The consequence of this is that a number of elephants have suffered immensely and the CITES parties involved in these commercial transactions are allowed to continue with impunity.  

Furthermore, CITES ignored the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission who does not endorse the removal of African elephants from the wild for any captive use. 

The Species Survival Network has published a rejection of Namibia’s use of Article III of the Convention re: its exports of live African elephants to non-range States.

The export of live wild-caught elephants should only be permissible to destinations within the natural range state of the species, i.e. for bona Vida in situ conservation reasons.

The UAE was suspended once before from CITES and should be suspended again. The glaring question is: will CITES Parties do the right thing and enforce their own Treaty.

Images: Previous export of African elephants from Africa to the UAE Credit: Facebook

©The EMS Foundation 2022. All Rights Reserved.





Sunday 13th February 2022

On the 4th of January 2021, the Pro Elephant Network publicly expressed their concerns with regard to the tender notice published on the 3rd December 2020        by the state owned New Era Namibian newspaper from the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism.

The tender notice was for the sale of 170 wild elephants from four commercial breeding areas in the north of Namibia.  PREN urged the Namibian government to withdraw the tender notice and offered expert assistance with identifying and implementing solutions for human wildlife conflict, drought mitigation and perceived concerns of overpopulation of elephants in Namibia. 

On the 11th August 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism in Namibia announced that 57 elephants of the 170 which were put on tender in December 2020 were sold.  They confirmed that 42 elephants will be exported from Namibia.

By October 2021, some members of PREN received reliable information that indicated that the selection and capture of the elephants had taken place and that the elephants were being held in quarantine in preparation for export.  The information suggested that a South African wildlife broker was involved in the process.  The information further alleged that the wild caught elephants were destined for captive locations in the United Arab Emirates.

The EMS Foundation obtained a Legal Opinion which stated that it would not be lawful for the Namibian CITES Management Authority to issue an export permit under either Appendix I or Appendix II of CITES and that, similarly, it would not be lawful for a country outside of the range states for Loxodonta Africana to issue an import permit. 

On the 12th of February 2022, John Grobler, a well-known and internationally published, Namibian investigative journalist was arrested and charged with trespassing under Ordinance 3 of 1962.  According to John Grobler, he was arrested for allegedly flying a drone over a farm in Gobabis in Namibia, owned by GoHunt Namibia Safaris owner, Gerrie Odendaal, where 23 wild, captured elephants with two new born calves, are allegedly being held. 

The EMS Foundation is concerned at the lack of transparency by the Namibian government.  The EMS Foundation fails to understand why the processes of the capture, of the quarantine and the export and import of these elephants has not been transparent if no laws have been broken. 

The EMS Foundation cannot possibly condone the heavy-handed approach of the Namibian government towards John Grobler.  

The capture of free roaming wild elephants is a matter of national interest, general public concern and importance.  This is a subject of legitimate global news interest.  This is an example where an individual has intervened by taking a public interest action and attempted to disclose questionable behaviour by others. 

Image Credit: Ariadne van Zandbergen (Desert Elephant with young crossing, the Huab River)

©The EMS Foundation 2022. All Rights Reserved.



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