The alleged abuse of elephants at Elephants of Eden (EOE), which was owned by Knysna Elephant Park (KEP), has shone a massive light on the elephant edutainment industry of South Africa. There is anger, hysteria, name-calling and finger-pointing. And the media has lapped it up like a pet elephant at a drinking hole.
Although the current scandal festers in my backwaters, I initially refrained from blogging about it as there were insufficient facts on the ground. However, when international media got the story hopelessly wrong, I published a precursor, ‘Were Knysna Elephants Tortured?’, in which I emphasised that there were 2 sides to this story. Actually, there are more, with some falling into the same camp. Primarily, there’s Lisette Wither’s (KEP owner), Debbie Young’s (KEP’s elephant researcher), Gerhard Van Rooyen’s (owner of some of the elephants that were abused), CapeNature’s (responsible for wildlife in the Western Cape), Wendy Willson’s (NSPCA inspector) and Greg Vogt’s (ex-manager of KEP). And, of course, there is you, the public, who has ranged from vicious to supportive but rarely in between.
What’s certain is that this story is as muddy as it gets. In pursuit of the truth, I had to abandon my personal goal of submitting an article to a Sunday newspaper lest I become another hack exploiting the situation rather than helping it through clarity. I have spoken to 6 people of the people involved so far but the main article will have to wait as there are no ways that I can yet combine their differing versions into a whole that will inform you so that you can make an informed (not emotional) opinion.
I haven’t forgotten the madness of ‘Yay, McLaren Circus is in Town?’, my circus article that attempted in between sanity yet had me attacked by both sides because, clearly, few were interested in truth, especially the truth about themselves. The circus wasn’t prepared to accept the only article that, in a way, questioned their critics by expressing the hypocrisy of many animal lovers and activists. The latter never cared that I stated that I was against all animals in cages (although supportive of Knysna Animal Welfare through my blogs, I haven’t heard from them since).
I asked the questions: Where do you stand? Do you yell for animal rights when it’s easy or do you do it all the time?
It applies even more so now as social media users have exploded the elephant edutainment topic. As with the circus, I expect truth, as best as I can deliver it (there’s rarely absolute truth), to be uncomfortable. I expect both sides to be unhappy but hope that some actively reflect on the far bigger story which is how to fairly create and enforce laws that protect South Africa’s elephants and associated industries.
As my primary article has been delayed, I’ve decided to share 2 interviews, word for word, that are steps towards me formulating my opinion. These interviews are with Greg Vogt and Lisette Withers. More has been said than this via email and phone but this is what they shared via email. It is obvious that both don’t accept any blame for elephant abuse but, interestingly, that does not make them on the same side. It’s no secret that Greg Vogt recently quit as manager of the park and that the separation created bad air. Social media posts and local rumours have named Vogt as the whistleblower but I have found no proof of such. Additionally, Knysna Elephant Park is taking him to court for different matters.
As these were intended as resources rather than complete interviews, I haven’t hammered anyone where clarification was needed or where there was a conflict between interviews. As said, there will be a bigger article (next week).
Let’s start with the Greg Vogt interview.