Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 June 2019
PURPOSE OF THE CHAPTER
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? These are ethical questions. In general terms, ethics tells us what is good and bad behaviour, which human actions are right or wrong. Usually theories of ethics indicate a range of moral duties we owe to human beings; either generally or to those with whom we have specific relationships. In some cases our ethics also alerts us to duties we have towards non-human living beings or things. Thus, in our ethical theories we attempt to indicate to what extent we should restrain our actions so as to avoid negative impacts on other humans and living beings as well. We also consider what duties or actions we have to perform that will be beneficial and helpful to other people or species.
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. In open societies the diversity of views that arise about controversial moral issues generates intense debate. Since the early 1990s, world views that were once silent or repressed in South Africa have gained ascendancy and voice. These world views need careful consideration to determine from which to choose our ethical values.
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. In some cases ethical views can be found in detailed academic reports, in other cases ethical views will be reconstructed from other sources, like presentations at public meetings, official documents, and research reports. The emphasis will be on showing the strengths and weaknesses of each view.