THE TULI ELEPHANT DEBACLE
- At the end of July 1998 30 elephant calves, all aged between 2 and 7 were violently snatched from their living families in the Tuli Block in Botswana. Their mothers had to be forcibly prevented
with vehicles, helicopters and immobilising drugs from rescuing them.
- The calves were transferred by road to Hartebeespoort Dam near Pretoria where they were subjected to brutal training by Indonesian Mahouts. The front legs were tightly hobbled and the back legs chained in a
stretched position, unable to lie down, and deprived of adequate water and nutrition, beaten repeatedly with rubber whips and ankuses.
- On 2nd September 1998, the National Council for the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) obtained a search warrant and the right to film the elephants. This video was
sent to Expert witnesses who submitted affidavits for the Court hearing.
- On 14th October 1998, the NSPCA won the custody of the elephants pending the cruelty case against Ghiazza, but he appealed the Court's decision and won.
- The Expert Witnesses were called to South Africa and viewed the elephant in African Game Services compound. They were found to be severely malnourished, highly traumatised and fearful, terrified of the mahouts
and most of them had abscesses and lesions caused by the training implements, one of which was a pole with the sharp end of a drill bit protruding.
- A 3 week Court Case ensued during which all witnesses were heard and the verdict was given in favour of the NSPCA on the 2nd December 1998 when the Magistrate ruled that the 30 young elephants had been
cruelly treated and upheld his previous decision to award custody of them to the NSPCA.
- The NSPCA were denied the Movement Permits and Ghiazza managed to persuade the Magistrate to allow 7 of the elephants to go to European Zoos. All reputable Airlines refused to carry them in view of the pending
criminal cruelty charges. The NSPCA received no backing from any of the South African Conservation Organizations, and the Rhino Elephant Foundation, whose Chairman, Dr. Andrew McKenzie has Chipperfield Circus
connections, were openly antagonistic and supportive of Ghiazza and his so-called training all along. WWF South Africa and the Endangered Species Trust chose to turn a blind eye.
- On October 31st 1998 some two months after cruelty charges were laid, an NSPCA Monitor witnessed the following at Ghiazza's facility, Hartbeespoort Dam, South Africa:- "One elephant was tied up in
the Warehouse .... When the elephant simply moved its trunk or shifted its weight, the mahouts would all hit it. Especially the mahout in front who would whip its face with a rubber whip. I counted that during
this training session of 20 minutes, the elephant was hit, or stabbed, with an ankus a total of 136 times".
- A month later the NSPCA was forced to bring additional cruelty charges against a mahout for using a pitchfork to discipline an elephant. Since then one elephant has been partially blinded by a whip and another
two have mysteriously sustained slashes on their trunks, one almost severed.
- On 13th January 1999, the 7 elephants destined for European Zoos, namely Dresden and Erfurt in Germany and Basle in Switzerland, were clandestinely smuggled out of the facility and held on the runway in
temperatures exceeding 40 degrees for 14 hours before being loaded onto an ancient Ukranian Khors Air Co. Charter, deemed unfit to land in Switzerland. The plane unloaded the elephants in Leipzig 2 days later
and they were then trucked to their Zoo destinations, the Swiss ones facing a gruelling 10 hour journey in freezing temperatures.
The lies that were fed to the gullible public to justify the Zoo sales
were incredible - i.e. that the Zoos were "saving" the Elephants for otherwise they would have died of starvation; that the signs of abuse they carried on their bodies were not the result of cruel
treatment but due to in-fighting amongst the calves because of population pressure in the Tuli Block etc., etc., etc.!
- Four of the remaining elephants were to be sold to the Fuji Safari Park in Japan (in fact a Zoo) and the rest were for sale to a Circus in China, a fate worse than death. The Japanese sale was withdrawn
following intervention by many concerned Animal Welfare Organisations because the elephants were wild caught and the subject of a cruelty case. Due to public outcry, the Chinese sale went on hold.
- Some of the "untrained" elephants were sent to a Private Reserve in Northern Transvaal, ostensibly freed, but with a hidden Agenda on the part of African Game Services to re-capture them at a later
date for the Japanese sale, so that they would not be "wild caught"!
- In mid June 1999 another tape depicting the most brutal bludgeoning of a cornered elephant was sent to Daphne Sheldrick for her to prepare another Affidavit for yet more Cruelty Charges. Since almost a year had
passed since the capture of the Tuli elephants, and the cruelty was so dramatic, Daphne felt that "enough was enough" and since the authorities had taken no action to date, she decided that it was time
the public stepped in. Despite the Court interdict, the tape was handed over to Carte Blanche and was shown three days running on South African Television. This generated an unprecedented public outcry, with
demonstrations in all the main South African cities and a fierce public bombarment of the Press. The public were shocked and outraged by what they saw. Many people were unable to even look at the footage, it was
so horrific, depicting also the ongoing abuse of "discarded" Circus elephants and the brutal "training" of an unfortunate Asian captive being beaten into submission. Events moved quickly from
this point on; Ghiazza made himself scarce, the men responsible for the beatings were arrested, (but later released on bond) some of the mahouts were sacked, and the Rhino Elephant Foundation tried to exonerate
itself by threatening charges against the NSPCA for permitting the cruelty. WWF immediately stepped into the fray purporting to be saviours of the Tuli elephants, (but were supportive of AGS previously
under the guise of "consumptive utilisation". In other words, "If it Pays, it Stays" where the value of an animal is gauged only in monetary terms.
- The elephants were temporarily placed under the care of South African Zoo personnel, pending a decision on their future. Five of Ghiazza's so-called "favourite" elephants had, he said, been sold to his
friend, Craig Saunders, who has been an onlooker and therefore party to the abuse since the beginning. Saunders applied to the Court to try and obtain them, having refused to sell their freedom even for
more than he paid in the first place. The removal of the elephants was opposed by the NSPCA and the Court refused.
- Nine of the 14 remaining calves were removed from Ghiazza's compound, and have allegedly been released in the Marikele National Park, where they are reported to have been accepted into a wild herd. We wonder,
however, why these animals were removed surreptitiously at night by the National Park Veterinarians and why the move has been shrouded in such secrecy, with no Press or Public allowed access to them in Marikele!
It is not surprising that people find it difficult to trust the South African authorities insofar as the Tuli Elephants are concerned!
- Meanwhile, a decision about whether or not to press Cruelty Charges against Ghiazza is pending.
Obviously they are likely to be playing for time in order for the heat to go out of the situation so that they will be able to profit from these unfortunate calves. It is important therefore to keep up the
pressure on the South African authorities. All concerned people should continue to make their feelings known because it is only public opinion that has brought about the release of nine and forced more humane handling
of those that remain and which are still the subject of a Court wrangle.
Mr. M. Valli Moosa, W., Minister for Environment Affairs & Tourism S.A. Fax No. +27 12 322 0082.
Mr. Michael Farr, Executive Director South African Tourist Board, Private Bag X 164, Pretoria 0001, South Africa.
President Thabo, Mbeki, Office of the President, Private Bag X 1000, Pretoria 0001, S.A. Fax +27 (012) 319 1582 or +27 214619340 or +27 12 323246
Dr. Rob Little, Director of Conservation, WWF, South Africa. Tel:- +27 (021) 887 2801 Fax +27 021 887 9517. Email sfaIcone@wwwfsa.org.za
Mrs. A.T. Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Private Bag X250 Pretoria 0001, S.A. Fax 27 (012) 321 1244M