Ethical Considerations in Elephant Management
The fate of the half a million or so free-ranging elephants in Africa depends on the choices people will make. What ‘moral standing’ do elephants deserve, and thus what constraints should we impose on our behaviour towards them? To assess the state of our knowledge about ethics and elephants is no easy affair. Different views on the moral standing of elephants and thus the obligations humans owe elephants, are not really a matter of scientific knowledge, although such knowledge might deeply influence our chosen ethics. At stake are human value choices that are developed through argument and discussion into ethical positions that suggest, prescribe, or legislate acceptable behaviour, and proscribe or discourage unacceptable treatment of elephants. The point of this assessment is thus to determine which ethical positions have been developed on various matters concerning the management of elephants and have been justified through reasoning. This chapter portrays the different ethical views relevant to the management of elephants that are present in some or other form in the public domain. The aim is to make readers aware of the multiplicity of ethical issues involved in elephant management, as seen from a variety of ethical viewpoints. The complexity of the benefits and harm that accompany different management options will be clarified. The chapter is divided into five sections: (1) our human responsibility towards elephants, (2) the accountability of elephant custodians, (3) the moral standing of elephants, (4) ethical theories, and (5) ethics and management options.