Norms and standards for the management of elephant in South Africa to be amended

24 September 2014


The Department of Environmental Affairs notes recent reports that it has abandoned key provisions of the Norms and Standards for the management of elephants in South Africa, adopted on 1 May 2008.

The DEA also wishes to clarify misconceptions that these amendments could ‘overturn the founding principles of the 2008 norms.’

The Norms and Standards exist to ensure the welfare and conservation of elephants. Their provisions are regularly reviewed and where necessary, updated or amended every four years.

Since the coming into force of the latest Elephant Norms and Standards, the DEA has become aware of implementation and enforcement challenges facing owners and managers of elephants, but also conservation authorities.

These include:

  • Requirements relating to an elephant management plan, in particular:
  • Complexities relating to the information to be included in the management plan;
  • Lack of clarity regarding who is responsible to develop a management plan for a roaming (wild) elephant- in instances where its origin cannot readily be determined.

In addition, certain provisions do not adequately specify whether they apply to wild or captive elephants. This includes:

  • Restrictive provisions relating to the import or export of live elephants, as no provision has been made for the export of captive elephants to captive facilities (e.g. such as exchanges between zoos).

 To address these potential problems and streamline the implementation process, the DEA convened a general stakeholder consultation workshop on 12 August 2014.

Additional challenges were identified, including:

  • No provision for methods of euthanasia;
  • Management decisions involving roaming elephants of unknown origin in the Transfrontier area of Limpopo should be in favour of research on the movement of those elephants, rather than to allow the hunting thereof;
  • The DEA must ensure that provisions of the Elephant Norms and Standards are aligned with provisions of the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations involving elephants.

Discussions from the above-mentioned workshop as well as submissions received from stakeholders will inform the amendment of the Elephant Norms and Standards.

The draft revised Norms and Standards will be gazetted in 2015. This will provide further opportunity for interested and affected parties to participate in the process.

It is important to note that proposed amendments to the Norms and Standards are not unique: but form part of the regular process of revision of departmental regulations, in response to prevailing conditions.

DEA Mandate


In terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) (NEMBA) the  Department of Environmental Affairs does not have the legislative mandate to regulate matters relating to the welfare of elephants.

A judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal - SA Predator Breeders Association (SAPBA) v Minister of Environmental Affairs (29 November 2010) upheld this restriction.

In the case involving the SA Predator Breeders Association it was found that the Minister of Environmental Affairs, inter alia, did not have the legislative mandate to regulate ethical or animal welfare matters, or issues not related to conservation.

As a result, the Minister may only regulate activities of a nature that they may negatively impact on the survival of listed threatened or protected species.

However the Minister is legally mandated in terms of NEMBA to ensure, among others, the “protection of species that are threatened or in need of protection to ensure their survival in the wild”, and “that the utilisation of biodiversity is managed in an ecologically sustainable way”.

Legislation relating to animal welfare


The welfare of both domestic and wild animals is regulated by two other Acts of Parliament, namely the Animals Protection Act, 1962 (Act No. 71 of 1962) and the Performing Animals Protection Act, 1935 (Act No. 24 of 1935 as amended).

Both these acts fall under the administration of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

To ensure that the well-being of elephants in captivity is adequately addressed, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been requested to assist by publishing the draft Minimum Standards for the management of captive elephants in terms of the Animals Protection Act, 1962.

In summary, the government is not removing any critical provisions in our laws relating to the welfare of animals because they are difficult to enforce or implement. The amendment of the Norms and Standards are to address concerns relating to the practical implementation of certain provisions, to add new provisions, and to bring them in line with the legislative mandate of the Minister of Environmental Affairs. 

For media inquiries contact:
Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871