A female African elephant named Umoya was found lying on the ground with severe injuries Thursday morning at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. She died shortly thereafter. Umoya was one of seven elephants ripped from their home in Swaziland in 2003 and shipped halfway around the world to the California zoo. PETA and other animal protection organizations had filed a lawsuit to try to prevent their capture and had even offered to pay to move the elephants to another part of Africa.
Since no caretakers were present when Umoya was injured, no one knows exactly what happened to her, but it’s likely that her injuries were sustained during a fight with another elephant. Umoya’s babies, Phakamile, 4, and Emanti, 18 months, are now orphaned, just as their mother was when she was taken from her homeland. Umoya’s family said goodbye and paid their respects, and her babies were the last to leave.
Elephants share intensely close bonds, and they nurture and protect each other. While playful roughhousing is common, aggression and fights are exceedingly rare. In a study reported in the journal Nature, behaviorists found that elephants with traumatic experiences during their formative years—like baby elephants who see their families slaughtered during culls, which is what happened to Umoya and the other seven elephants the zoo took from Swaziland, or are taken from their home and hauled thousands of miles away to a strange and frightening environment—often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. If one of the elephants snapped from the stress of captivity and attacked, Umoya, of course, had no way to escape.
Every ticket purchased to a zoo helps perpetuate this cruel cycle. It is time to close elephant exhibits, leave elephants in Asia and Africa where they belong, and move those in zoos now, like poor, lonely Lucy in Edmonton, to a sanctuary.
Written by Jennifer O’Connor