China Imports 20 Baby Elephants despite Activists’ Worries


Cui Zheng, Caixin Media

Date Published

(Beijing) – China has imported more than 20 baby elephants from Zimbabwe, and activists have expressed concern about the conditions in which the animals will live.

The elephant calves arrived at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport on July 6, said Hu Chunmei, an animal rights activist. Other activists learned of the elephants’ arrival from airport employees and a cargo company.

Saviour Kasukuwere, Zimbabwe’s environmental minister, also told the Associated Press on July 6 that the animals had been shipped to China.

Activists had tried for weeks to stop Zimbabwe’s government from allowing the export.

Zoos in Taiyuan, in the northern province of Shanxi, and in the western Xinjiang region imported four elephants from Zimbabwe in 2012, Hu said. One died shortly after arriving in the country and two others have not been seen in a long time.

Trade of elephants was banned under a 1989 UN convention that China signed. However, some recovering populations of the animals, including those in Zimbabwe, were listed as eligible for trade in 1997.

Officials in Zimbabwe said the elephant population in that country is getting too large, and they have been looking for buyers to pay US$ 40,000 to US$ 60,000 for each calf. It is unclear how much the Chinese buyers paid or who they are.

Animal rights campaigners around the world have said they are concerned about how the elephants were taken from the wild and kept in captivity. They also want to know how the animals will be treated once in China.

Joyce Poole, cofounder of ElephantVoices, a research and advocacy group in the East African country of Kenya, told National Geographic that elephants are highly intelligent and develop strong social bonds. Separating them from their herds and holding them in captivity for decades in circuses or zoos is “a fate worse than death,” she said.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a group that sets standards for zoos, said on July 7 it is concerned about “the questionable transfer of young elephants to China.”

“How the calves were obtained and what happened to their families remains unclear, and no information was provided about whether any damage was done to wild populations during the acquisition process,” the group said.

Animals in China are often trained for circus performances or mistreated in zoos or safari parks.

In recent years, African elephants have been spotting languishing in zoos in cities such as Weihai, in the eastern province of Shandong, and in Liuzhou, in the southern region of Guangxi, said China Zoo Watch, an animal welfare non-governmental organization.

China recently imported seven lions from Zimbabwe, the U.S. magazine National Geographic reported in late June. Activists in China could not verify this.