At a time when animal rights activists are demanding an end to the export of wild elephants to zoos and other captive facilities, more than 90 elephants have been exported from Zimbabwe to China and Dubai, earning the Southern African country $2.7 million.
Money from the sales, made over a six-year period (between 2012 and January 2018) will be used to fund conservation efforts, according to the Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Priscah Mupfumira.
The sub-adult elephants, between two and three years old, were ripped off from their mothers and sold for prices ranging from $13 500 to $41 500 each, reports Zimbabwe Chronicle.
“Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority exported a total of 97 sub-adult elephants to China and Dubai between 2012 and 1 January 2018. A total of 93 elephants were exported to China and four were exported to Dubai. The elephants were airlifted to Shanghai Wildlife Park, Jiangmeu-Hesham, Chimelong and Umurgi in China and to Dubai Safari Park. There were no elephant deaths in transit,” said Minister Mupfumira.
“The Authority received US$2 715 000. The beneficiary of the revenue generated was the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. The funds were used to support elephant conservation activities.
“The major conservation activities supported included anti-poaching operations through purchase of patrol vehicles, fuel, protective field clothing. Wildlife protection also included supporting intelligence and investigation units dotted throughout the country. Other activities included research and monitoring of major wildlife species, as well as carrying out conservation education and awareness campaigns in local communities living with wildlife.”
The sale of the sub-adult elephants comes as the government is pushing for the legalisation of ivory trade which is restricted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
“We are sitting on ivory worth US$300 million which could be sold to fund our conservation programmes as well as benefit communities living in wildlife areas,” said Minister Mupfumira.
Elephant-rich nations like Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia are seeking a lift in the ban in ivory trade placed by CITES, the global organization that regulates the trade in endangered species.
Zimbabwe currently has about 85,000 elephants, but the country can only cater for 55,000, according to officials.
To ease overpopulation and raise funds, the government, in 2017, sold 35 elephants to China, amid criticism from animal welfare activists that such sales are unethical.
An IOL report said that this practice dates back to the era of former Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, where wildlife was often sold to Asian and Middle East countries to settle debts.
Zimbabwe’s repeated capture and export of infant elephants to countries like China has been condemned over concerns that Chinese zoos and safari parks do not have any legally-mandated animal welfare standards.
“Many zoos throughout China keep their animals in isolation and neglect, with very poor veterinary care. Ever since these cruel exports started, they have sparked global condemnation, because of the horrific conditions in which the young elephants are kept,” said Animal People Forum.
Several animal rights organizations have, over the years, opposed the capture and trade of wild infant elephants for captivity. This follows other concerns that African elephants are currently listed as a threatened species, with less than 500,000 remaining in the wild.
Many animal rights campaigners across the world are of the view that these precious animals must be conserved, however, Zimbabwe continues to do the opposite, “ripping baby elephants from their families and homes and sending them to live and die in captivity in zoos,” said Animal People Forum.
“Zimbabwe continues to exploit its wildlife to the highest bidder with no meaningful oversight. Recognising elephants as sentient beings, South Africa has banned the capture of elephants from the wild for captivity. Zimbabwe must urgently follow suit to redeem itself,” Humane Society International/Africa’s wildlife director and an elephant biologist, Audrey Delsink, said in February.
Below is a footage of young wild elephants being captured in Zimbabwe: