The African elephant in this picture lives alone in freezing temperatures at Taiyuan Zoo in China.
People are kidnapping young elephants from a national reserve in Zimbabwe and shipping them to China to sell to zoos.
These people aren’t poachers. They are Zimbabwean government officials.
Zimbabwe’s national parks are hurting for money — they ”have been unable to pay the wages of employees the past few months,” and Chinese zoos “pay handsomely” for the young elephants. Nevertheless the parks authority “is understood to have been against the deal,” and government veterinarians who examined the Chinese zoos found them inadequate, according to The Scotsman. Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe allegedly made a “covert deal” to sell the elephants to the Chinese.
The 36-hour trip to China is traumatic for the juvenile animals and sometimes kills them. One of four young elephants flown to China in November 2012 “died soon after its long and difficult journey,” the Global Post reports. “The elephants arrived in late November, during a winter of record cold temperatures.”
After that death, activists lobbied Zimbabwe’s government not to ship off another five calves whom authorities had already captured. The activists succeeded in persuading officials to release the five youth back into the wild, though by that time their families could not be found. Instead they “will undergo ‘rehabilitation and integration’” with other herds, according to Fox News.
So far Chinese zoos have paid for eight elephants, and Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, says that when attention to this scandal dies down, Zimbabwe will send the outstanding animals. “The rest of the order will be shipped,” as The Global Post put it.
The Chinese and some activists have said that the elephants sent to China were not kidnapped from their families but orphaned in a local drought, The Scotsman reports. Other activists say the animals were not orphans. The Scotsman also claims that the national reserve from which the elephants were taken is carrying “twice its capacity” of elephants “with devastating effects on the terrain.” This is questionable since, as National Geographic reports, “some African elephant populations” are endangered.”
The elephants already sent to China, who are estimated to be 3-4 years old, face a bleak fate. Barren concrete cells enclosed by metal bars are cold comfort to young animals who have just been ripped away from their families and homes.
Stealing these elephants from their mothers and families and shipping them off to zoos isn’t ethical, says Dave Neale, director of animal welfare for the Animals Asia Foundation. ”Removing a highly intelligent, social animal from its family group and wild habitat to be shipped to another country and placed inside a concrete cell cannot be justified.” He called the practice “morally repugnant.”
Chairman of the Zimbabwe National SPCA Ed Lanca agreed: this “is basically kidnapping.”
Even Dr. Ian Player, a man who himself has been involved in sending rhinoceroses to zoos, condemned this project. “The sale of animals to destinations where it is known the animals will not be properly cared for, and facilities that are inadequate, is absolutely and morally wrong,” he said, according to Africa Geographic Blog.
This trade with China may be illegal. All Africa states that the “international body responsible for issuing trade permits for endangered species,” CITES, “went against its own regulations” in approving this transaction. Those regulations “prohibit licensing the sale of endangered species for commercial purposes.”
CITES regulations also prohibit “risk of injury, damage to health and cruel treatment” to endangered animals. All Africa argues that the Chinese are violating this regulation because the imported elephants are “being kept alone in unfamiliar surroundings” and the “temperature in their new home is much colder than the African climate they were born in.” There is some speculation that it was the cold, perhaps combined with the arduous journey to China, that killed the one elephant calf.
Dave Neale, however, says that though he strongly opposed the sale, it was legal and not in violation of CITES regulations.
Rodrigues has harsh words for CITES that would explain how the body could have issued permits for the kidnapping and sale of these young elephants into such wretched conditions: “there is a lot of greed and somebody is either being paid off or it’s just things that don’t make sense to me and it’s disgusting.”
The Scotsman reports “fears the elephants may be bred for ivory.”
Please sign our petition to CITES asking that governing body to revoke the permits that permit this travesty to continue.
Photo credit: Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.