Politics & Government

Injunction filed to block zoos from receiving elephants

The new elephant exhibit under construction at the Sedgwick County Zoo. (Sept. 25, 2015)
The new elephant exhibit under construction at the Sedgwick County Zoo. (Sept. 25, 2015) File photo

An animal rights group filed for a preliminary injunction against the pending import of African elephants to three American zoos, including the Sedgwick County Zoo.

The group Friends of Animals argues the government did not consider the physical and emotional toll that intercontinental flight and life in zoos will have on elephants currently in southeastern Africa.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued permits last month allowing 18 African elephants to be transported from Swaziland to the United States. Zoos in Dallas, Omaha and Wichita each want six elephants from the import.

“There is no indication…FWS consulted with independent scientists or other experts regarding the potential for psychological, social or physical injury to the elephants,” according to the 28-page motion filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

They want to block the import until the government fully complies with environmental laws.

Conservationists and animal rights groups oppose keeping elephants in zoos because of their social, migratory nature. Other groups tried, unsuccessfully, to block the last elephant import from Swaziland to American zoos in 2003.

But the group says more research has come to light since then about elephants in captivity.

“They become depressed, lose their appetites, and can become fidgety, dissociative or even aggressive,” the motion says.

Friends of Animals also argues the import decision should be sent back to the agency to consider how their members who visit zoos would be harmed by seeing elephants in captivity and not in Swaziland.

Court records show the zoos in Dallas, Omaha and Wichita have joined the Fish and Wildlife Service as defendants in the case.

The zoos won’t comment on an active lawsuits. But they said in an e-mailed statement they want to provide “a healthy life in a safe home.”

“We are hopeful for a quick resolution that enables the relocation of the animals,” the statement said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service does not comment on ongoing lawsuits either.

The motion also includes an alternative plan to keep the elephants in southern Africa.

A hearing on the preliminary injunction motion is scheduled for March 17.

The Sedgwick County Zoo’s Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley is scheduled to open this Memorial Day weekend.

Sedgwick County Zoo Director Mark Reed talks about his excitement that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved the import of elephants from Africa to zoos in Wichita, Dallas and Omaha. (video by Jaime Green)

Sedgwick County Zoo director Mark Reed announced on September 25, 2015 that the zoo has partnered with the Dallas Zoo and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium to form a conservation partnership with a wildlife trust in Swaziland. Each zoo will re

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