Plans to retire loved Pretoria Zoo elephant Charlie

Organisations called for the elephant bull to be released back in to the wild after concerns about his health in the zoo.

 Charlie at the Pretoria Zoo. Image: EMS Foundation.

The Pretoria Zoo is pursuing ‘retiring’ Charlie the elephant (42) from its zoological gardens into wildlife.

SA National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) spokesperson Nontsikelelo Mpulo announced the decision to retire he elephant, due to the elephant’s advanced age on Friday.

Charlie has been at the Pretoria National Zoo for over 22 years and in the circus environment for about 20.

“The retirement may include giving Charlie the opportunity to have a partner following the death of partner Landa, in 2019,” Mpulo said.

Mpulo said the elephant was in good health and that a suitable retirement best venue option for him was wildlife.

“The recent comprehensive medical assessment of Charlie covered haematological and blood chemistry analyses, faecal glucocorticoid metabolites analysis, bronchoalveolar lavage and a trunk wash, radiology of distal extremities, a dental and eye examination, as well as screening for tuberculosis (TB) – all showing that the elephant is in good health,” said Mpulo.

“SANBI is working on a suitable retirement sanctuary and would benefit from co-operation and support from stakeholders and partners to ensure the continued welfare of the elephant.”

She said requisite pre-release protocols such as psychological and behavioural assessments were being facilitated.

The chairperson of SANBI Board, Professor Edward Nesamvuni thanked zoo staff, the public, civil society stakeholders and partners for their support in ensuring the best possible life for Charlie in the Pretoria zoo.

“The date for retirement will be announced once all processes are finalised.”

Petition to move Charlie bears fruit

Recently several organisations petitioned for the elephant bull to be moved as soon as possible ‘before he becomes another dreadful statistic’.

Pro Elephant Network (PREN) and EMS Foundations called for the move as concerns for Charlie’s health mounted over the years.

PREN is a forum of individuals and organisations with specific expertise on wild and captive African and Asian elephants, science, health, and conservation.

It was alleged that the bull suffered from colic, which could be fatal.

PREN coordinator Stefania Falcon called for an end to the alleged trauma suffered by Charlie.

“Zoos are incapable of being able to offer elephants the space they need to stay healthy.”

Falcon said elephants needed to walk great distances and forage for the correct diet.

“Too many elephants have died prematurely in zoos in South Africa and around the world.”

In October 2020, a 36-year-old elephant cow, Landa, died at the Pretoria zoo.

Landa was believed to have had contracted acute colic but the zoo still awaited post-mortem results to determine the cause of death at the time, according to executive director of the zoo Leslie Mudimeli.

Landa had been part of the Pretoria zoo family since April 1986.

Members of the two organisations wrote several letters to Minister Barbara Creecy calling for Charlie to be afforded adequate healthcare.

DA’s Shadow Minister of Environment, Dave Bryant said he was delighted that consistent pressure by civil society and the DA had finally resulted in Charlie being considered for release from the Pretoria Zoo.

“We are very heartened to hear that steps will now be taken to find a suitable sanctuary for the elephant. We would like to thank the minister for taking the DA’s calls and the well-being of Charlie into consideration.

“It is now imperative that the minister look into similar situations elsewhere in the country, including the case of the three elephants currently confined at Johannesburg Zoo,” said Bryant.

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