Keith Lindsay, a conservation biologist with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, warned, in a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003, that the shipment would set a dangerous precedent for the Swazi parks and other small reserves to "become production farms for the international zoo market."
Conservationists now fear Lindsay's prediction is coming true. "Are we going to allow this to happen in perpetuity?" Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, told The Dodo. "Is Swaziland no more than a breeding center for American zoos?"
How things used to be
Fifty years ago, there were few wild animals in Swaziland, and no elephants at all. The lions, zebras, wildebeest, impala and nearly everything else had been shot and poisoned by the thousands by white settlers - game hunters and cattle farmers who wanted to clear the land for their own herds and considered the native fauna to be pests.
In the early 1960s, a young Anglo-Swazi named Ted Reilly transformed his family's 1,100-acre farm into a wild animal reserve, transporting animals - including zebra, kudu, impala and waterbuck - from neighboring South Africa and Zimbabwe. Before long, Reilly was managing three reserves - his original farm, the Hlane Royal National Park and the Mkhaya Game Reserve. The three reserves are still managed, under a mandate from Swaziland's King Mswati III, by Ted Reilly and his son.