Humane Society International, other wildlife protection groups fight to stop export of young wild-caught elephants from Namibia to Dubai zoo

Groups seek to halt elephant export amid fears of cruelty, potential death

Humane Society International

Humane Society International and other wildlife conservation and animal welfare groups are fighting to prevent five young elephants (ages of four to eight) from being sent to a zoo in the United Arab Emirates from a privately owned game farms in Namibia. This action comes amid fears that forcibly removing the calves from their herd and transporting them vast distances will traumatize the elephants and possibly kill them.

Namibia’s neighbor, Zimbabwe, has captured a number of elephant calves and sent them to zoos in China in recent years.

  • In 2012, three out of the four elephants from a similar export died not long after arriving in China.
  • In December 2016, a Chinese government document confirmed that one wild-caught elephant calf died during transit from Zimbabwe to China.

The Namibian government has granted an export permit to Eden Wildlife to ship five elephants to Dubai Safari Park.

The groups wrote to officials at Swedish company ITTUR Industrier AB, which owns Eden Wildlife, calling for the immediate and permanent end of the capture and sale of live elephants. Humane Society International further urges the company to shift to ecotourism as a more sustainable, economically beneficial and animal-friendly approach.

As cited in the letter, elephants are extremely intelligent, sentient animals, with a highly organized social structure including strong family bonds that can last a lifetime. Young elephants are dependent on their mothers and their herds to acquire necessary social and behavior skills. Bull calves only leave their natal herds at 12 to 15 years old and females remain for life. Disruption of this bond is physically and psychologically traumatic for a calves and remaining herds. The groups are concerned that the elephants may be subjected to harsh techniques that could include withholding water and food, as well as painful physical restraints to force the animals to submit to human dominance. Reports indicate that the Dubai zoo will offer tourists elephant rides.

Audrey Delsink, executive director for HSI/Africa, said: “African elephants belong in the wild, on African soil, not held captive for entertainment in a zoo in a Middle Eastern desert. Subjecting wild elephants to a life in captivity is inhumane; wrenching these five calves from their families is a trauma that will scar them for life. Ethically responsible elephant scientists and preserve managers know that capturing and selling elephant calves is not a humane or efficient population management measure, as the Namibian government claims. Rather, it is a false pretense to make financial gains that have no conservation benefits.”

In 2015, 77 Namibian elephants were either killed as ’problem animals’ or exported alive for profit. That same year, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) database, Namibia exported the tusks and other parts of at least 75 elephants as hunting trophies. The groups call on Namibia to follow Botswana’s example in transitioning to a successful pro-conservation model whereby trophy hunting is prohibited and ecotourism thrives.

The letter to ITTUR Industrier AB was signed by the following organizations: Animal Conservation and Welfare Foundation; Animal Defenders International; Animal Welfare Institute; Animals Asia Foundation; Annamiticus; Ban Animal Trading South Africa; Born Free Foundation; Captured in Africa Foundation; CATCA Environmental and Wildlife Society; Center for Biological Diversity; Cetacean Society International; Conservation Action Trust; David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation; Djurens Rätt;  Elephant Reintegration Trust; Elephant Specialist Advisory Group; EMS Foundation; Fondation Franz Weber; FOUR PAWS International; Grey Solutions; Humane Society International Australia; One More Generation™; Outraged SA Citizens Against Poaching; Performing Animal Welfare Society; Pettus Crowe Foundation; Pro Wildlife; Rainbow Eco-Farm and Training Center; Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas e.V.; Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; The International Primate Protection League; The Humane Society of Canada; The Humane Society of the United States; The Pegasus Foundation; Wildlife Protection Society of India; Youth 4 African Wildlife.


  • Namibia’s neighbor, South Africa, prohibits the capture and export of wild elephants for captive use. In May, a South African court denied an export permit application for the export of five circus elephants to the same zoo in Dubai. US$233,943 was the estimated price for each elephant.
  • The IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group opposes the removal of African elephants from the wild for captive use because there is “no direct benefit for in situ conservation.” 
  • Removal of elephants from the wild is not an effective population growth control measure. Immunocontraception has proven effective for this purpose; more than 800 elephant cows in 24 reserves in South Africa are treated with immunocontraception.
  • Dubai Safari Park plans to import an estimated 10,500 animals to fill the park, including 350 rare and endangered species.
  • ITTUR Industrier AB chairman and CEO Johan Hansen reportedly filed for bankruptcy in March 2013 and has been implicated in tax fraud, including a tax deduction for a luxury hunting trip. Many of Hansen’s subsidiaries reportedly have gone bankrupt, including Ittur Global Industries, the latest to fail just in May of this year.
  • Eden Wildlife reportedly exported nine live elephants to a zoo Mexico in 2012. 

Media contact: Wendy Higgins, HSI Director of International Media: +44(0)7989 972 423,

Learn More Button Inserter