Guilty in Tuli Elephant Abuse Case
Africa, April 10, 2003 (ENS) - PRETORIA, South
Africa, April 10, 2003 (ENS) - Nearly five years after
charges were first laid relating to the beating and
cruel tratment of young elephants, African Game
Services owner Riccardo Ghiazza and one of his
employees, student trainer Wayne Stockigt, have been
found guilty of contravening the Animal Protection Act
APA) at Pretoria regional court.
A third man, elephant
handler Craig Saunders was not convicted because the
state could not prove a case against him.
In 1998, a group of 30
juvenile elephants was purchased by African Game
Services, a wildlife trading company, from the Tuli
Block Game Reserve in neighboring Botswana, which was
unable to support its elephant population due to a
They were transported
to the African Game Services property near Brits,
South Africa where Indonesian mahouts employed by
Ghiazza subjected the elephants to mahout style
training that included beating the animals while they
Investigators from the
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals (NSPCA) obtained a search warrant in September
1998 and, with a police escort, entered the African
Game Services training facility. There they documented
cruel treatment including chains that caused wounds,
and the use of hooked ear loops. They found that the
elephants were also hit with sticks and whips, and
kicked in the genitals.
Video footage of the
elephants was secretly made by NSPCA inspectors and
was broadcast on "Carte Blanche," one of
South Africa's top investigative news programs in July
1999. The public responded with indignation and
outrage. Thousands of South Africans demonstrated
outside the African Game Services property demanding
that the Tuli elephants be protected.
Monday, Ghiazza in his
personal capacity and African Game Services were found
guilty under Section 2.1 (B) of the Animal Protection
Act for their treatment of the Tuli elephants.
Magistrate Adriaan Christiaan Bekker said there was
undisputed evidence that uncovered chains had cut into
the flesh of the animals causing wounds.
Magistrate Bekker said
Ghiazza and African Game Services were guilty because
they had taken no steps to stop the abuse.
Karen Trendler, an
animal rehabilitator and founder of the Wildcare
Africa Trust rehabilitation center just north of
Pretoria, was called to the witness stand in the Tuli
elephant case. She told the court the abuse of the
elephants was one of the worst instances she had ever
"They were exposed
to the most shocking abuse. Hopefully this ruling will
set a precedent to prevent further incidences of this
kind of cruelty," said Trendler.
The Indonesian mahouts
who conducted the training also were charged under the
Animal Protection Act, but they have never been
prosecuted as they disappeared although police were in
possession of their passports.
"trained" the animals were to be sold to
zoos, game parks and entertainment facilities abroad.
Seven of the 30 young Tuli elephants were exported in
January 1999 to zoos in Germany and Switzerland.
The Brits magistrate
court granted the NSPCA the right to seize the
mistreated elephants and take them from African Game
Services for their protection, but before the
elephants could be moved Ghiazza launched an appeal,
which was denied. Then he asked the Supreme Court of
South Africa for a review of the lower court's
By the time the Supreme
Court ruled, upholding the NSPCA's right to take the
elephants, there were no elephants left on the African
Game Services property.
Nine of the elephants
eventually taken into safekeeping by the NSPCA were
later transferred to Sandhurst Safaris in the North
West province. Five of these elephants were
subsequently recaptured and taken to an educational
facility near Hartebeespoort Dam run by Craig
Saunders, one of the accused who was not convicted
Nine other Tuli
elephants were purchased from Ghiazza and transferred
to Marakele National Park for permanent release into
the wild. Five others were later taken by the NSPCA to
Marakele and released into the wild.
Sentencing in the case
has been postponed until July 24. The maximum sentence
that this crime can receive is R200,000 (US$25,740)
and 12 months in prison.
continues to function as a wild animal trader.
According to the NSPCA, his property is now being used
as a quarantine station for animals about to be
exported to countries such as China.
conservation organizations assisted the NSPCA with the
case against those who mistreated the Tuli elephants
and with the elephants' welfare.
Born Free Foundation
and Care for the Wild supporters, with the help of the
"Express" newspaper and its readers, raised
a considerable amount of money that has sustained the
case against African Game Services.
"We are relieved
that Ghiazza and his former employee Wayne Stockigt
have finally been found guilty in a court of law. The
message is clear, the cruel and inhumane treatment of
wild animals in South Africa will not be
tolerated," said Jason Bell-Leask, Southern
Africa regional director for the International Fund
for Animal Welfare which contributed US$55,000.
"Thousands of our
supporters world wide and in South Africa opened their
hearts and pockets to the plight of the elephants -
this conviction is a salute to every decent person who
wants to see animals protected. Thanks to them IFAW
was able to help the NSPCA get this important
conviction," said Bell-Leask.