China has reportedly imported more than 30 wild caught elephant calves
from Zimbabwe in a controversial if not cynical move which took place on the very
day China banned the sale of ivory.
elephants recently captured in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe have been airfreighted
abroad, according to Zimbabwean government sources official who has asked to
remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. The shipment was confirmed by the
Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force.
elephants are very young, between the ages of 3 and 6. Two of them are
particularly fragile: One female calf is struggling to stand and has open sores on
her body; she has been weak since she was captured. Another elephant, noticeably
small, “is quiet and reserved. When approached by other elephants, she moves
away. She is suffering from trauma and is possibly being bullied,” the official
The elephants were captured from Hwange on August 8 and
footage of the operation was secreted to reporters. The Guardian published the explosive video
showed captors repeatedly kicking a five-year old female elephant in the head.
Ethiopian Airlines shipped the animals on Friday, according
to photos sent to reporters from Zimbabwe. The animals are presumably in or on
their way to China: Zimbabwe has sent at least three known shipments of wild
caught elephants to China since 2012. Last year, one of the elephants died
According to Chunmei Hu, an advocate at the Freedom for the
Animal Actors organization, two zoos -- Chongqing Safari Park and Daqingshan
Safari Park -- are awaiting elephants, based on Chinese media reports.
International trade in live elephants is legal, however it is
increasingly being debated at the highest level.
At a recent CITES meeting in Geneva,
representatives from the African Elephant Coalition – a group of 29 African
nations that represents 70 percent of the elephants’ range – raised serious
concerns at the trade. Ali Abagana, speaking for the delegation
of Niger, told the conference that their country is “concerned about the plight
of African elephants, including juvenile animals, captured and sent to captive
facilities outside of the species’ range.”
The CITES Secretariat consequently tasked a working group of nations and NGOs to debate the
parameters of the live trade in elephants, which exists against a backdrop of
poaching that has seen a third of Africa’s elephants wiped out in the past
decade. The working group is being chaired
by the United States and includes among others: Ethiopia, Kenya, China, the hunting
lobby group, Safari Club International (SCI), animal welfare organizations
including Humane Society International (HSI), World Association of Zoos and
Aquariums (WAZA) and American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). .
While the working group deliberates more concerns been raised
about the ethics of capturing wild animals for permanent captivity.
Peter Stroud, the former curator of the Melbourne Zoo from
1998-2003 who was involved in sourcing elephants from Thailand, calls moving
wild caught animals to zoos is “unconscionable.”
“There is now abundant evidence that elephants do not and
cannot thrive in zoos,” Stroud says. “Young elephants will never develop
naturally as socially and ecologically functioning beings in zoos. They
will face a very long and very slow process of mental and physiological
breakdown resulting inevitably in chronic physical and mental abnormality,
disease and premature death.”
The capture of wild elephants for permanent captivity is
illegal in South Africa.
Ed Lanca, Chairman
of the Zimbabwean NSPCA, echoes Stroud’s views: “There is no
sound basis for the removal of wild caught baby elephants to facilities that
are ill equipped nor prepared to provide adequate long-term care for these
animals. At all times, the welfare of these animals must remain paramount said
Lanca argues that Chinese tourists should instead be encouraged to
visit Zimbabwe and “experience these majestic animals in their natural
environment. Zimbabwean animals belong to the
nation and must be protected. Wildlife
remains our heritage.”
Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force documented the transport on its Facebook page, along with photos of the trucks and crates the elephants were
shipped in. At the end of its post, ZCTF wrote, “We would like to thank everyone who tried to assist in
stopping this terrible event from taking place but unfortunately, we have
failed yet again.”
CITES officials in Zimbabwe were asked to comment on the export. At the
time of this writing, there was no response.
(Source: Conservation Action Trust)
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