The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has announced its decision to retire popular Elephant Charley (or Charlie) from the Pretoria National Zoological Garden. SANBI said it is pursuing options for Charley to retire in a suitable wildlife sanctuary or similar setting.

“This decision follows a number of considerations, among others, the elephant’s advanced age,” SANBI said in a statement on Friday. (According to National Geographic, an African Elephant’s average lifespan in the wild is 70 years.)

Charley is now 42 and has been at the National Zoological Gardens for about 22 years, after being exposed to a circus environment for about 20 years.

The retirement may include giving the male tusker the opportunity to have some female companionship following the death of his late partner Landa (36), in 2019, said SANBI.


“The recent comprehensive medical assessment done on Charley which covered hematological and blood chemistry analyses, fecal glucocorticoid metabolites analysis, bronchoalveolar lavage and a trunk wash, radiology of distal extremities, a dental and eye examination, as well as screening for tuberculosis (TB), shows that the elephant is in good health,” the statement says.

Pretoria Zoo’s Famous Elephant Charlie to be Retired
Elephant Charlie in November 2021. Photo: FB / Pretoria Zoo
Pretoria Zoo’s Famous Elephant Charlie to be Retired
Pretoria Zoo’s Famous Elephant Charlie to be Retired. Photo: FB / Pretoria Zoo

In October 2021, the public expressed concern after seeing Charlie lying still on the ground of his enclosure. The Zoo’s veterinary team diagnosed Charlie with a stomach ache and he recovered within a day or so.

SANBI open to support from partners to ensure Charley’s continued welfare

SANBI is working on a suitable retirement venue option to a sanctuary and would welcome cooperation and support from stakeholders and partners to ensure the continued welfare of the elephant. The requisite pre-release protocols – including but not limited to psychological and behavioural assessment – are being facilitated.

The Chairperson of SANBI Board, Professor Edward Nesamvuni thanked the NZG staff, the public, civil society stakeholders and partners for their support in ensuring the best possible life for Charlie in the Pretoria NZG.

The date for Charley’s retirement will be announced once all processes have been finalised. SANBI said it is committed to the welfare of all the animals in its care.