Zimbabwe ships live elephants to wildlife parks in China

Zimbabwe ships live elephants to wildlife parks in China
Elephants, like this male exported by Zimbabwe to China in 2012, live wretched lives in Chinese zoos. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF CHINA ZOO WATCH

It has been reported that more than 30 wild elephants were being prepared for travel from Zimbabwe to captivity in China, according to sources.

The founder of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues, said that some of the elephants are reportedly as young as three years of age and one has apparently passed away.

Zimbabwe ships live elephants to wildlife parks in China
This photo allegedly shows young elephants being held at Umtshibi wildlife capture and relocation unit in Hwange national park. Photograph: Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force

“Everything is wrong”,” said Daniela Freyer of conservation group Pro Wildlife,  “There is a high mortality rate during capture and in transport and in captivity. It is morally not acceptable and not sustainable.”

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife management authority (ZimParks) announced back in August that it would be capturing elephants from Hwange National Park in a conservation scheme that it said would repopulate another park in the country. But wildlife groups said at that time that they suspected the country was planning to export the elephants to China.

The Times of South Africa reported that as many as a hundred baby elephants have been requested for shipment to China.

A young captive elephant in China's Shandong province.
A young captive elephant in China’s Shandong province. (Reuters/China Daily)

Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, has been quoted as saying: “Zim must sell its elephants because not only are they a global resource but also a local one, as it will support the livelihoods of our local communities and for future generations.”

Sources state that the elephants will most likely be sent to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park and the Yunnan Wild Animal Park.

Many zoos in China have requested African elephants, including the North Forest Zoo in Harbin, Ordos Zoo in inner Mongolia, and Beijing Wildlife Park.
The elephants are allegedly between two-and-a-half and five years old, a highly vulnerable time in their lives, when separation from their mothers is known to be emotionally traumatic and physically dangerous.
Zimbabwe ships live elephants to wildlife parks in China
Elephants graze in Zimbabwe’s Hwange national park. Photograph: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Iris Ho, wildlife campaign manager at Humane Society International, said: “The sales of baby elephants and other animals from Zimbabwe to China are possibly the worst-case scenario for wildlife caught in shady deals.”

Ho continues, “We have a country that continues to attract international condemnation for its deplorable treatment of iconic wild animals in captivity, from Pizza the polar bear in a Guanzhou shopping mall, to elephants forced to perform or languish in captivity.”

And on the supply side, “We have a corrupt regime that disregards human rights and freedom, and that is selling its wildlife to the highest bidder with no meaningful oversight.”

Wildlife presenter Anneka Svenska added “Due to the young age of these elephants, it is clear that they will be suffering away from their mother’s milk. Like humans, elephants make tight knit family bonds and it can take as long as a human child to mature. To remove young elephants away from their herds must be incredibly painful for all the elephants involved, not to mention extremely unethical as their populations are declining rapidly due to poaching”.

Zimbabwe ships live elephants to wildlife parks in China
Zimbabwe exported eight elephants, including this male, to China in 2012. Most are now reported to be dead.

“The capture of elephants has been going on for centuries,” says Joyce Poole, the co-founder of Kenya-based ElephantVoices, a research and advocacy organization. Poole has been studying the communication and emotional life of African elephants for nearly 40 years.

Poole expresses horror—and dread—over the prospects for Zimbabwe’s baby elephants if they’re indeed exported. “For elephants, being held captive for decades in a circus or in the majority of the world’s zoos is gruesome. It’s a fate worse than death.”

In 1998, the Botswana Wildlife Department granted a company called African Game Services permission to capture elephants for sale to foreign buyers. The elephants were taken from their families in Botswana’s Tuli Block game reserve and were shipped to a warehouse in South Africa to be trained for zoos, circuses, safari parks, or elephant-back safari ventures.

Poole was asked to review footage of the treatment of the elephants at the training facility. She described both the capture and the confinement as “cruel” and wrote that “when the elephants were first brought to their holding area, they were trembling and screaming.”

She also described seeing grief in the elephants’ faces. “Those of us familiar with calves who have been orphaned or mothers who have lost their calves do recognize this very familiar expression.”

Sources: The Guardian, National Geographic