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Ethical care in South African elephant facilities

Ethical care in South African elephant facilities: what the science says

Conservation Guardians, a research-coordination organisation that concentrates on Aichi Targets, research into elephant care, and conservation education, says that six years of scientific data have demonstrated the high standard of welfare and care currently practiced by elephant facilities in South Africa. 

Data collection began in 2013, when the Department of Agriculture mandated Conservation Guardians to work in collaboration with Italy’s Padova University to develop a model for the assessment of elephant care that’s based on ethical reasoning and scientific enquiry. 

In that first year, six of the University’s postgraduate veterinarians were given access to elephant facilities in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo, collectively gathering various types of data over a total of more than 5,000 hours. 

The resulting material was used to design an assessment model that provides a science- and ethics-based score of elephant care – basically, a score derived from the elephants’ perspective, rather than a subjective score derived from an anthropomorphic perspective. 

Since then, at least two researchers have returned to visit local facilities each year to continue the process of data collection, with their results feeding into, and refining,  the assessment model.



This process led to the formation of the Elephant Care Association of South Africa, with facility owners committing to work even more closely with researchers in defining methods of objective evaluation. 

This collaboration will assist government and welfare authorities when drawing up legislation for the regulation of elephant facilities.

“We’ve been dealing directly with the authorities all along,” said Conservation Guardians founder, Greg Vogt, who also initiated the collaboration between the University and the South African facilities. 

“The subject of elephants in captivity has always invited vigorous opinions from those for or against the practice.  

“Padova University’s research has opened many people’s minds to ethical and moral concepts used in discussions about managing animals in captivity. 

“Few people understand that conservation and animal welfare are inextricably connected, and that the rigorous ethical reasoning processes used in determining the metrics for measurement consider input from all stakeholders and role-players, rather than taking into account only those of a chosen few who share a single line of thought.” 

Mr. Vogt said that Conservation Guardians wishes to place on record its thanks to facilities that have participated actively in the research. “They’ve opened their doors to our researchers 24/7, allowing us to gather data that helps  us to assess welfare standards from the animals’ perspective,” he said.


MEDIA RELEASE: Elephant Interactions. 9 DECEMBER 2019

More information: 

Greg Vogt, +27(0)83 290 4141 


Photo by Antelope Park on Unsplash