Keeping elephants and other large, highly-intelligent beings captive is a mercenary, harmful practice, a New York Times investigation has suggested.

Journalist Charles Siebert scrutinised a March 2016 operation importing 17 elephants from a nature reserve in South Africa to the US.

Siebert interviewed those involved in the controversial mission and found the rationale for extracting elephants from their homelands was both flawed and contradictory.

Advocates for wildlife “utilisation” stress that elephants deplete natural resources and multiply too quickly—despite being labelled at risk of extinction and afforded maximum protection.

This particular 2016 operation infuriated Swaziland’s National Trust Commission, who alleged Big Game Parks director Ted Reilly ignored them and could easily have moved the elephants to other Swaziland reserves.

But Reilly affirmed exporting the elephants would allow rhino and vulture species to flourish and provide funding for new conservation efforts.

Many who work in zoos share this belief: captive elephants provide valuable research opportunities, while being protected from poaching and other violence.

Much of this research has shown elephants—who for millennia have lived communallysuffer as humans would in captivity.

Critics argue public opinion is already evolving, as more and more zoos phase out their elephant exhibits.

Should we reconsider the ethics of elephant captivity?