Celebrities Joanna Lumley, Evanna Lynch and Jan Leeming are pleading with Johannesburg zoo in South Africa to have a heart this Valentine’s day and agree to relocate to a sanctuary a 39-year old female elephant called Lammie who lives a lonely existence since her mate died in September.

Animal protection groups Humane Society International/Africa, the EMS Foundation and the Elephant Reintegration Trust have found a rewilding sanctuary willing to offer Lammie a forever home living with other elephants who would become her new family, but so far the zoo has resisted and has instead suggested it may acquire another elephant.

The campaigners will hand in a 280,000 signature joint petition to the zoo together with Valentine’s cards from members of the public urging the zoo to transfer Lammie to the sanctuary. A letter of support from 13 of the world’s most renowned elephant conservationists has also been submitted.

Joanna Lumley said: “Loneliness is more of a prison than the walls of Lammie’s zoo enclosure. She belongs running wild with other elephants. Please let her go, Johannesburg zoo.”

Lammie and her mate Kinkel had been together for 17 years, and during her 39 years of captivity, Lammie has also endured the death of her parents, the relocation of one of her brothers to a French zoo and the other to a captive facility in Johannesburg, as well as the death of her own calf – sired by her own father – a week post-birth. Elephants develop strong social group bonds and losing family and peers can result in significant grief and trauma. Lammie now spends her days alone in her enclosure without the company of another elephant or adequate enrichment. Elephant experts at HSI/Africa, EMSF and ERT are concerned for her mental well-being.

Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch said: “Elephants are such amazing, intelligent creatures that it is simply heart-breaking to see them reduced to such pitiful circumstances. I really hope that the people of Johannesburg zoo will find it in their hearts to let Lammie live with other elephants in a sanctuary, it’s the least she deserves after years of captivity.”

So far the zoo has resisted requests to release Lammie to a sanctuary, and has instead suggested that it may acquire another elephant. Even if another elephant is acquired, the standards of a number of zoo associations stipulates a minimum grouping of at least 4 elephants. Elephant experts at HSI/Africa strongly oppose this as the zoo is not able to meet the complex needs of elephants which is why nearly 40 zoos around the world are increasingly retiring their elephant exhibits.

Audrey Delsink, wildlife director of Humane Society International/Africa, said: “Elephants are highly intelligent, extremely social, sentient beings with complex family structures and bonds that last a lifetime. Now that Lammie has lost her companion, she is in desperate need of a happier existence and the chance to live out her years with other elephants. There is a rewilding sanctuary ready and waiting to offer Lammie a home where she can express normal elephant behaviours and thrive emotionally and physically with a group of elephants who would become her new family. Acquiring another elephant would simply be repeating the cycle of suffering all over again, and seeing elephants in a sterile environment provides no educational value at all. There are many zoos around the world recognizing the welfare challenges of keeping elephants, so this Valentine’s day we’re urging Johannesburg Zoo to mend Lammie’s broken heart and let her go to a sanctuary where she can spend the rest of her days with others of her kind.”

Based on observations conducted by Humane Society International/Africa, EMSF and ERT, the charities believe that Lammie’s well-being is compromised as she experiences little environmental enrichment, has little shade, insufficient water in which to bathe, and appears to listlessly stand at the gate of her elephant house for hours on end. She also appears to be overweight, likely because as a lonely elephant, she has little incentive to be active and eating is her main stimulation to break up the monotony of the day.

Broadcaster Jan Leeming said: “Lammie belongs in a wilderness sanctuary with other elephants, not languishing in a zoo. HSI/Africa and friends have found a sanctuary ready to offer Lammie a forever home, letting her live here is the only ethical thing to do. Please have a heart for Lammie, Johannesburg zoo.”

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