Notebook by Bill Heaney

A few weeks ago I drew attention in this column to the special place elephants have in the hearts and minds of Dumbarton people.
We have had an elephant on both the old and new coats of arms of both Dumbarton Town Council and West Dunbartonshire Council.
Evidence of this connection is not so obvious now in the 21st century.
The Elephant Hotel in the High Street was the largest hostelry in the area, and then  for many years we had the Elephant and Castle public house owned by Peter McManus – and later his son-in-law, Brian Blacklaw – next door to the distillery offices, also in the High Street.
That public house which is still standing, if only just since it’s well nigh derelict, later became known as ‘Nellies’ and was a big hit with the younger generation.
Nellie the Elephant is also the mascot of Dumbarton Football Club.
Dumbarton FC, the old Town Council and West Dunbartonshire Council coats of arms.
Elephants used to be part of the circuses which came to the Common in Dumbarton and East King Street Park in Helensburgh.
Thankfully, circuses such as Pinder’s, which used to parade animals before the public which would have been better off in the wild where they belong, have become much less popular.
To the extent that many of them have gone out of business. Thankfully.
Today however – and despite this – we learn that elephants are an endangered species.
Three years ago, the European Union, in agreement with most African elephant range states, committed to a strict restriction of the live trade of elephants.
This led to a decisive vote to limit the trade from some of the key exporting African countries to secure areas in the wild and within the species’ natural and historical range. In other words, wild African elephants could not be exported out of Africa.

However, judging from its proposal to the 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP19), which is taking place now in Panama City and will go on until 26th November, the EU has back-tracked on its commitments to protect elephants.

And has chosen to favour a minority of African countries who want to maintain this cruel activity and profit from the trade in live, mostly baby elephants.

Between 2010 and 2022, almost 220 live free-roaming African elephants were captured in the wild in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Eswatini and Tanzania and exported to zoos around the world.

Images and videos of juvenile elephants and fragments of family herds being darted from the air, corralled into holding compounds and forcibly bundled into crates before being flown to enclosures in China, the United States, Cuba, Mexico, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates drew global condemnation.

Some of the elephants died at their woefully inadequate captive destinations, while others were killed or severely injured during capture and transport, leaving disrupted and traumatised family groups behind.

One poignant image from the UAE shows family groups huddled under scattered man-made umbrellas, seeking shade from the unbearable heat.

Due to a web of obfuscation surrounding the timing and listing of African elephants, both Zimbabwe and then Namibia have subsequently been able to continue their exports. The two countries have moved more than 50 individuals out of Africa between 2019 and 2022.

Consequently, a proposal has been put forward by Benin, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger, Senegal and Togo with a view to resolving the confusion, calling for ‘a clear and common legal framework’ to immediately prevent any further exports of elephants out of Africa.

The EU risks being branded as baby elephant snatchers – again  

At variance with the proposal by these eight elephant range nations, and  apparently bowing to pressure from southern African countries, the EU has submitted a counter-proposal demanding that any decision to clarify the matter be postponed and subjected to closed-door deliberations until CoP20, which is likely to take place in 2025.

The EU’s delaying of action to close the live trade is bewildering, given that it has effectively reversed its own position that supported the ban on elephant exports.

The EU reversal undermines the opinion of the majority of African elephant range states. It appears to be simply down to the belief that creating a clear legal framework was too lengthy a process.

That excuse has been rubbished by Foundation Franz Weber, an organisation that has been campaigning for stronger protection of African elephants since 1975.

“The proposal by Benin et al offers a clear, simple and quickly implementable solution,” it says. “The decision can be taken now.”

They argue that delaying the debate on this issue on which a clear mandate was given at CoP18 in Geneva in 2019 will permit the export of elephants out of Africa for another three years – or more, thus ensuring that baby elephants will continue to be snatched from their mothers’ sides and transported to zoos outside Africa.

Elephants on parade in Helensburgh and Democrat editor Bill Heaney on a photo shoot with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Kenya.

The legal quagmire on the capture and export out of Africa of live elephants must be resolved It is urgent that this legal quagmire regarding the capture and export out of Africa of live elephants is resolved without delay.

Many elephant biologists and conservationists have stated that exports of African elephant to captive facilities outside of Africa have no benefit for the in situ conservation of the species.

African elephants are highly social animals who fare very poorly in captivity. Evidence from elephant biology demonstrates that no captive facility is currently able to meet the physical, behavioural, social and environmental needs of wild-caught elephants.

For this reason, the only justifiable option for ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ that are ‘suitably equipped to house and care for’ African elephants are locations within the species’ natural and historical range.

The EU’s role as a champion of international biodiversity now in question, so that’s why the public – and that includes people here in Dunbartonshire, have to sign the petitions, which can be found on the web.

Shielding threatened African elephants from the vagaries of international trade is a fundamental element of protecting international biodiversity.  Perhaps one of our local school could adopt a baby elephant?

We should urge the EU to do the right thing: Withdraw its proposal to delay the process – effectively kicking the issue into the long grass – and support the proposal by African countries to keep African elephants where they belong, which is in the wild in Africa.

 Elephant and Castle public house in Dumbarton High Street and elephants being paraded locally.


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