A cargo plane packed with 17 African elephants touched down in Texas over the weekend, CNN reports, with the pachyderms headed to zoos in Dallas, Kansas, and Nebraska. The transfer to the US was a "rescue mission," Dallas Zoo President Gregg Hudson says, because the elephants were slated to be killed to make room for rhinos at the Big Game Parks reserve in Swaziland, which is suffering a "state-of-emergency drought." Activists, however, aren't happy. Connecticut-based Friends of Animals, which had filed for a preliminary injunction, was planning to make legal arguments "to prevent a lifetime of captivity" for the elephants during a Thursday hearing. Scoffs Hudson, "There are those who would rather see elephants die than live in accredited zoos. We strongly disagree."
In a statement, Friends of Animals accuses the "devious" zoos of "secretly" removing the elephants ahead of the hearing, writing, "the underhandedness of this move cannot be overstated." The group contends that confining elephants in zoos can cause depression and other psychological problems. In a statement of its own, the Dallas Zoo calls claims that the elephants were taken from Swaziland under cover of darkness "outlandish," adding that the transfer had been planned for months and "there was no subterfuge." The US Fish and Wildlife Service approved the transfer in January. Also, the zoo notes, the preliminary injunction did not prohibit the relocation from going forward. The elephants, which were sedated and put into crates for the flight, range in age from 6 years old to 25. In exchange for the animals, the zoos will donate money toward the game reserve's rhino conservation program.