Experts have accussed the government of inflating the population of the elephants in order to justify its controversial process of exporting baby elephants to China, United Arab Emirates and France.
The government has said the national herd of the elephants is 80 000 when the country can only accommodate 48 000 but the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) says this is false as a transparent audit on elephants was last done in 1997.
The high number of elephants in the wild has been given as one of the excuses for exporting the animals.
“There are other ways of controlling the elephant population although we don’t believe the numbers are anywhere near what the authorities say they are,” Johnny Rodrigues, the ZCTF chairperson said in a petition.
“A transparent audit hasn’t been done since 1997. A count was done last year but it seems the results have been kept secret. A survey was done recently and it showed that the elephant population has gone down by over 40 percent in Matusadona, the Zambezi Valley and Chisarira; so we don’t understand how the authorities can claim that there are 80 000 elephants in Zimbabwe,” said Rodrigues.
Media reports suggest that Zimbabwe intends to export 36 baby elephants, seven lions and 10 Sables to China, UAE and France. The animals are reported to be in captivity at Mtshibi Capture Unit, some 7km from the Main Camp in Hwange.
“We know from past experience that baby elephants seldom survive when they are sent to a foreign country. In 2012/2013, eight elephants were sent to China and it has been reported that only one has survived and that one is not in a healthy condition. They are housed in bare cells with cement floors and very little vegetation. Sometimes the weather is below freezing and they cannot tolerate that,” Rodrigues says in his petition.
“In addition, the captured elephants will be taken to zoos and safari parks overseas, which will be detrimental to our tourist industry. If people can see the African elephant in their own countries, they won’t be visiting Zimbabwe to see them,” he said.
In a separate letter directed to the Chinese Ambassador to the USA, Zhang Yesui, 37 veterinarians, scientists, conservationists and animal care and welfare professionals from across the world under the organisation, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) have urged the Chinese government to cancel any remaining order for elephants from Zimbabwe and refrain from future imports of wild caught animals from any country.
“It is unethical and morally reprehensible to remove elephant calves from their families in the wild. As previous correspondence has declared, the captures of the elephant calves should not have happened, not in 2012 and not in 2015-and never again.
“In closing, we most respectfully ask that China takes immediate action to save the life of the young male elephant at the Taiyuan Zoo and to ensure that the other young elephants imported from Zimbabwe are being provided with adequate care and conditions,” the letter reads.
There are also concerns that the funds from the sale of the wild animals will not go to the Treasury but will be used to fund Zanu PF projects.