Free the Fresno Elephants: Send Nolwazi, Amahle, and Mabu to Sanctuary
Free the Fresno Elephants: Send Nolwazi, Amahle, and Mabu to Sanctuary
Why this petition matters
UPDATE: Since the creation of this petition, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, without any announcement beforehand, transferred Vusmusi to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The zoo brought in an elephant named Mabu, “who has sired many elephant calves,” to breed with Nolwazi and Amahle, a spokesperson told The Fresno Bee. One of the most exploited elephants in US zoos, Mabu was part of a group of elephants captured from the wild in 2003 that included Vusmusi’s mother; Mabu has twice been moved back and forth between the Tucson Reid Park Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to be used for breeding.
We will provide updates shortly on our work to free Amahle, Nolwazi, Mabu, and Vusmusi to an elephant sanctuary. Thank you for signing this petition!
Three elephants—Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi—are currently imprisoned and languishing at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in Fresno, California.
At the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, which was recently named one of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America, African elephants Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi are confined to a 3 acre yard that they have limited access to. The exhibit is across from a nightclub, restaurants, and surrounded by major transportation arteries and railways. When the handlers are off duty or it’s too cold outside, the elephants are further confined in a largely concrete barn.
Elephants are autonomous, social, and incredibly cognitively complex beings who suffer greatly when confined to small spaces and prevented from engaging in behaviors necessary to meet their physical and psychological needs.
The elephants at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo have been forced into a life of subjugation. They have no true freedom of choice. Their days are controlled by zoo employees. They are confined to a small yard that they have limited access to. Everything about the life the Fresno Chaffee Zoo is forcing them to lead is known to cause enormous suffering in elephants. The Fresno Chaffee Zoo has merely kept Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi alive; nothing about their existence resembles what is necessary to meet their physical and psychological needs.
Elephants don’t belong in zoos, and they suffer when deprived of their freedom. It’s that simple. Another life is possible for Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi. They could be released to one of the accredited elephant sanctuaries in the United States where they would be able to live freely with respect and dignity. At a sanctuary they would have hundreds of acres to roam and the freedom of choice as to how to spend their days and with whom.
Please sign this petition to urge the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to send Nolwazi, Amahle, and Vusmusi to an elephant sanctuary. Please share this petition widely to help secure their freedom.
Below is additional information on Nolwazi, Amahle, Vusmusi, and the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
Nolwazi is a female African elephant believed to be 27 years old. She was born in Hlane National Park in eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland). She has been held captive at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo since 2018.
Amahle is a female African elephant believed to be 12 years old. She is Nolwazi’s daughter and was also born in Hlane National Park. She has been held captive at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo since 2018.
Nolwazi and Amahle were among 39 elephants who roamed approximately 12,000 acres of the 54,000-acre park. In 2016, they and 15 other elephants, most of them breeding-age females, were taken from their natural habitat and imported to US zoos–a highly controversial arrangement which Charles Siebert detailed in a 2019 investigative essay for The New York Times Magazine (“Zoos Called It a ‘Rescue.’ But Are the Elephants Really Better Off?”).
Vusmusi (also known as Moose and Musi) is an 18-year-old male African elephant. He was born in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to an elephant named Ndulamitsi, who was pregnant with him when she was imported to the US from eSwatini in 2003, also despite global public outcry and with zoo and eSwatini officials making the same claims about the elephants needing to be killed otherwise.
Vusmusi was transferred from San Diego to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in 2015. In 2017, after he cracked and broke his tusks numerous times, the zoo had metal covers made for them, which other zoos have also done. “He had a history of being tough on his tusks, and he would break them on things,” Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s curator for elephants told the Sacramento Bee in 2017. According to elephant expert Keith Lindsay, this behavior is “an unnatural behavior indicative of stress and/or boredom” (elephants living freely in their natural habitats use their tusks “to pry bark off trees or dig for roots, and in social encounters as an instrument of display or as a weapon”). The zoo plans to also use Vusmusi for breeding.
The Fresno Chaffee Zoo
This year the Fresno Chaffee Zoo was named one of the "10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America" by In Defense of Animals. IDA based its assessment of the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in part on the fact that three of the elephants in its custody died prematurely in a relatively short period of time. Amy, a 30-year-old wild-born African elephant, was euthanized two years after arriving at the zoo because of a torn ligament in her leg that impacted her mobility. Kara, a 42-year-old wild-born Asian elephant, was euthanized because of pain from chronic osteoarthritis after spending 34 years in captivity in the zoo.
In 2019, several months after Nowalzi and Amahle’s arrival at the zoo, Amy’s daughter, Miss Bets–originally presented by the zoo as being a similarly aged companion for Amahle–died from EEHV, an elephant herpesvirus that causes hemorrhagic disease. It was not detected until after Miss Bets’ autopsy. That same year, Amahle was diagnosed with EEHV. Upon her diagnosis, she “went to restraint school real fast,” the zoo’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Curator of Elephants wrote of her treatment plan in a PowerPoint presentation delivered as part of a 2020 African Elephant EEHV Workshop.
The elephant exhibit is approximately four acres, although the area able to be used by the elephants appears to be approximately three acres, according to elephant expert Keith Lindsay in an affidavit submitted in support of this case. When the remodeled exhibit opened, the then zoo director said: “Elephants also will live in a typical matriarchal setting as they do in Africa … The zoo will start with three and could build up to six or eight on the 4-acre portion of the expansion.” The exhibit consists of an outdoor yard with a pond-like water feature that separates the elephants from the rhinos, a waterfall-like water feature, a fake rock wall with holes the elephants can reach into to grab food, and a pole with hay hanging from it.
The exhibit is across from a nightclub and restaurants surrounded by major transportation arteries and railways. When the handlers are off duty or it’s too cold outside, the elephants are further confined in a largely concrete barn.