ECASA responds to Adam Cruise article on proposed captive wildlife interactions ban

ECASA responds to Adam Cruise article on proposed captive wildlife interactions ban

The Elephant Care Association of South Africa (ECASA) responds to Dr. Adam Cruise’s article, ‘Rules of Engagement: South Africa to ban captive wildlife interactions for tourists

The Elephant Care Association of South Africa is deeply concerned by Dr Cruise’s article, ‘Rules of Engagement: South Africa to ban captive wildlife interactions for tourists,’ for two main reasons:

  1. Dr. Cruise appears to present SATSA as a regulatory authority or industry-wide representative body (which it is not) that has the power to ban such interactions (which it does not); and
  2. Dr Cruise appears to conflate consultation with research – the results of which are presented as South Africa’s only (and heavy-handed) plan for the future of all wildlife sanctuaries, regardless of each individual facility’s individual merits.

This should not be taken as an attack on Dr. Cruise, who is no doubt reporting SATSA’s position as the organisation presents it.

Our concerns should rather be seen as an indictment of the process through which SATSA arrived at its Animal Interactions Charter – a process that we regard as flawed since it was neither informed by empirical scientific evidence, nor completely inclusive.

ECASA – which represents owners and managers of facilities at which elephants are managed in captivity – was established following work carried out by the advocacy and mentorship organisation, Conservation Guardians, working in collaboration with the University of Padova in Italy.

As a research-coordination organisation that concentrates on Aichi Biodiversity Targets, research into elephant care, and conservation education, Conservation Guardians was responsible for instituting an on-going research project involving Padova University’s conservation ethicists led by Prof. Barbara de Mori.

The project aims to develop a scientific model for the assessment of elephant care in South Africa.

Building on a mandate from the Department of Agriculture – the statutory body responsible for the welfare of animals in captivity – the model was created out of empirical evidence, with data collection beginning in 2013. In the first year of research, six postgraduate veterinarians invested more than 5,000 hours in on-site investigations. Since then, the University has dispatched two researchers a year to continue with data collection in order to enhance and broaden the effectiveness of the assessment model.

ECASA believes that this science-based approach to developing standards for the assessment of animal interaction is dispassionate and non-partisan.

ECASA wishes to place on record with concern the fact that SATSA refused during its consultative process to accept any input from Conservation Guardians or, by extension, from the scientific research undertaken by the University of Padova.

We posit that this lack of inclusion robbed SATSA’s process of an ethical foundation, and therefore that SATSA’s desire to position South Africa as an ethical tourism destination – no matter how well-meaning – lacks substance.

We also believe that SATSA’s process lacked rigorous scientific research. Instead, it included only discussions with some (not all) interested and affected parties.

SATSA claims to have devised a ‘locally-born ethical framework,’ but in our view – and since their process ignored the elements of scientific investigation and ethical reasoning – what it actually created was simply a self-devised tool that suits the organisation’s own needs in order to help it achieve a pre-decided outcome.

ECASA believes that, given a proper understanding of the rigorous processes that can and should be followed, the tourism industry should collaborate with researchers in defining methods of objective evaluation.

Such collaboration would assist government and welfare authorities to create legislation for the regulation of wildlife interaction facilities – vital and necessary regulation based on a clear understanding of the fact that conservation and animal welfare are inextricably connected.

Since SATSA has failed to meet the criteria outlined above, ECASA requests the withdrawal of Dr. Cruise’s article, and that it be replaced with a more balanced, nuanced look both at the conservation ethics, and the actual regulatory position as they stand in South Africa at the moment.

Greg Vogt

Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay