BY DANIEL SALAZAR
The Sedgwick County Zoo and Spirit AeroSystems have launched a children’s book about the relocation of six elephants from southern Africa to Wichita.
“Elephants on Board” follows the six elephants that were imported from a national park in Swaziland to the Sedgwick County Zoo. It also features how the zoo worked with the king of Swaziland, who has ruled over the country as an absolute monarch for decades.
The book says drought and a lack of food meant the elephants needed a new home.
“The elephants were hungry and feared people who hunted them. Swaziland was no longer a safe place for elephants,” the book says.
They were shipped to the Sedgwick County Zoo, the Dallas Zoo and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in March. The transfer went ahead despite a legal challenge from an animal rights group that opposed keeping elephants in captivity.
The book celebrates the new elephant exhibit, which opened in May. The book was written and illustrated by two Spirit employees and published through a Spirit sponsorship.
The book encourages people to donate and volunteer for zoos in support of safe homes for elephants.
The zoo is donating the book to public elementary schools in the Wichita area. It will also be available for purchase for $10 at Watermark Books on East Douglas.
‘Last absolute monarch in Africa’
The book says the king of Swaziland, Mswati III, worked closely with zoo director Mark Reed before the elephants were moved to the United States.
“King Mswati III of Swaziland knew he had to do something,” the book says. “He didn’t want the elephants to feel hungry and thirsty. He couldn’t wait for rain. If he didn’t act soon to move the elephants, they might die.
“King Mswati invited Mr. Reed to Swaziland and asked if his zoo was ready to welcome the new elephants. Mr. Reed said, ‘Yes!’ ”
King Mswati III of Swaziland is the “last absolute monarch in Africa,” according to the watchdog group Freedom House.
The king and his mother have ultimate authority over the cabinet, legislature and judiciary, according to the State Department’s 2015 report on Swaziland’s human rights practices.
“The three main human rights abuses were police use of excessive force, including torture, beatings, and unlawful killings; restrictions on freedoms of association, assembly, and speech; and discrimination against and abuse of women and children,” according to the report.
Free speech and political parties are severely restricted, and elections aren’t considered free or fair by international observers, Freedom House said.
Reed said he met with the king on a visit to Swaziland and called him a “very benevolent man.”
“His word is final,” Reed said. “This would not have happened without his support.”
Reed said he wasn’t bothered by the book’s inclusion and characterization of the king.
“I haven’t looked into the domestic politics that firm or hard,” Reed said. “I’m not saying he’s perfect. I don’t think anybody can say that about any ruler of any country.
“I have no problems with our relationship in bringing these elephants here. These elephants are better off here,” he said. “That’s why he’s in the book. That’s who we dealt with.”
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