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The Plight of Captive Elephants

Since 2002, when the South African tourist industry allowed for the establishment of elephant-back safari operators within in its borders, the number of elephants in captivity in South Africa rose to approximately 120 and now remains at over 90 individuals. Some of these elephants are involved in filming & entertainment, elephant interactions with the public and elephant back safaris.

Several of the captive elephant populations were brought into South Africa from Zimbabwe, where the concept of elephant back safaris had been established for a number of years prior to being trans-located to South Africa. Many of the captive elephants share a similar history of being captured during cull operations conducted in Zimbabwe in the 70’s and 80’s. A number of young elephants had been captured and were destined to go overseas to zoos and safari parks in order to raise funds for National Parks. A group of local farmers, in a quest to keep them on African soil purchased these young elephants and it was through this ‘rescue mission’ that the Zimbabwean model for captive elephants and elephant back safaris was born.

An alternative is needed for elephants in situations like these

From the early 2000’s until around 2013, the elephants sought for captivity within the confines of South Africa were sourced for the most part under unethical circumstances mainly through the capture of wild elephants for captivity and commercial gain. The captive elephant industry brought with it a number of controversies over the years where the ethics of operating elephants commercially is questioned in various formats.

Today the reality of operating with captive elephants has finally realised its potential. The establishment of the elephant Norms and Standards by the government prohibits the sourcing of more elephants for this industry from the wild. Lack of correct operating skills is also a major inhibiting factor when it comes to fostering elephants and establishing and maintaining commercial operations.

As the elephant back safari industry is a relatively new concept in Africa, most

elephants involved in the elephant back safari industry were sub-adult elephants,

ideal for operating safaris as they are easier to train and manage at this age. However,

now many of these same elephants are reaching a mature adult stage where they are

harder to handle and pose a greater threat to the people handling and interacting with


Currently, there are 95 captive elephants in South Africa. Without any long-term  provision for the ethical retirement of commercial elephants, these animals remain  confined to captivity when no longer used. In more extreme cases, as these retired  animals are no longer economically viable to support or become hard to handle and  dangerous, they are euthanised – a sad end to elephants who had no choice but to  dedicate their lives to being ambassadors of their species, for the sake of human  entertainment.

Some of these elephants are living in dire captive conditions across the country and  there is a crucial need to rescue them and provide them with the necessary health and  mental care as soon as possible.

This is why we believe the establishment of a reserve for this purpose is an urgent necessity.


Full reintegration back into a wild system should be the only ethical and humane management strategy for current captive elephants. On land where they can roam without interference, free to choose where to go and whom to associate with; to enjoy the luxury of a river, open space and dense vegetation. A place free from human control and exploitation.

Our vision is to develop a reserve that is a safe haven for elephants in South Africa, providing a secure wild environment for retired, commercially used elephants from various captive backgrounds, including abused and compromised elephants. These elephants will be reintegrated back into the wild where they can live out their remaining years, with dignity, as free elephants; or where necessary receive care and recover from the negative impact of captivity.

What an elephant’s life should look like - a life our reserve would aim to provide

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