Since 2012 about 100 elephant calves have been sold to Chinese zoos and safari parks, some of which offer elephants performing stunts in circus shows. Such deals require permits, under the multilateral Cites treaty that governs the wildlife trade. Network for Animals has documentary evidence showing that in the past, phony documents have been used.
Now another 35 baby elephants are to be sent to Chinese zoos after being forcibly separated from their mothers in the Hwange National Park.
“Network for Animals is appalled by Zimbabwe’s continued export of very young elephants to lives of hell in China,” said David Barritt, NFA’s chief campaigner.
“Many of these babies will still be breastfeeding. Scientists say they will never fully recover from the trauma. To make this horror even worse, they are sent to zoos, where they will be held in cages or small areas, totally unsuitable for elephants, for the rest of their lives.”
Barritt said Zimbabwe authorities have previously exported baby elephants using invalid or duplicated CITES permits. “When NFA raised this issue with authorities, they ignored us. What they are doing is morally wrong and in breach of CITES regulations, but they go on doing it anyway.”
At the moment, the elephants, some as young as two, are being held in pens in Hwange while travel crates are prepared for the 7,000-mile journey. Conservationists say calves can be entirely dependent on their mothers for emotional and physical support until they are five; others can still be taking their mother’s milk until they are ten or another sibling is born.
During the rule of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s wildlife was regularly sold to Asia and the Middle East to settle debts. “It was hoped that when the present president Emerson Mnangagwa came to power in a coup, he would stop this practice which shames Zimbabwe,” said Barritt. “Instead, he is continuing on the road of cruelty and callous indifference to animals.”