Zimbabwe must stop its sale of wild baby elephants


By David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Date Published
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As expressed in January of this year, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) have grave concerns for the future of upwards of 60 infant elephants captured by wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe late last year. Since their capture from the wild, these infants have been held in a facility in Hwange National Park awaiting their fate.
In last week’s Telegraph newspaper, it was reported that the Zimbabwean government is now pressing ahead with plans to sell 27 of these infant elephants to China, to be part of a Zimbabwe Safari experience. Based on what has been reported in the article, we have extensive concerns and fear for the future of these elephants.
Selling wild elephants to fund conservation is unethical.
The justification to capture elephants from the wild and ship them overseas to generate funds for the protection of other elephants is hugely flawed. Essentially generating a one off payment, given Zimbabwe’s current ranking of 156/175 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (2014), its highly unlikely funds will reach front line conservation efforts in Zimbabwe. Setting a dangerous precedent when funds quickly run out; then what? Simply “Capture, ship and repeat”?
The trauma inflicted upon the captured elephants means any ‘visitor experience’ is wholly un-educational.
Elephants are highly emotional animals, with strong social bonds and the power of cognitive thought. Breaking up elephant family units causes emotional trauma, to the captured calf, as well as the remaining herd.
Additionally, seizing wild elephants and placing them into captivity in China, so that fee-paying visitors might be able to “enjoy” them, is illogical. To witness elephants in forced confinement is not to witness elephants at all — physically, yes, but a captured animal will not display natural behavior and this is especially true for elephants, a species that requires vast space to roam — space that is not provided by any zoo or safari park anywhere in the world. That space exists only in Africa, the home of these elephants and that is where these elephants should be seen, in their home, among their families, being elephants!
The return of fully grown elephants to the wild, after five years of captivity is unrealistic and shows a total lack of understanding of the species well-being.
In the article Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister, Saviour Kasukawere talks of returning these 27 elephants to the wild after five years. That in five years’ time, these 27 elephants will be given up by the Chinese Safari Park and either the Park of Zimbabwe will then cover the transport costs of sending 27 elephants, who would then purportedly be large animals at 10 years of old, from China to Zimbabwe is implausible, unrealistic and a cynical ploy to placate international outcry.
Critically, knowing what we do about the species, informed by scientific and expert opinion, these elephants would have no understanding of life in the wild and would be suffering emotional trauma from their time in captivity, which would need to be overcome. One could argue that it would be dangerous, not only to the elephants, but to others, to release 27 non-wild elephants into the wild without an extensive reintegration program. Experience has shown this would take a number of years and, importantly again, cost more than the income generated by the initial sale of these elephants to China. It shows a terrifying lack of understanding of elephants that the Environment Minister would even suggest this!
We implore the Zimbabwean Government to look again at their approach to wildlife conservation, and take a deep and long-sighted view of the country’s environmental heritage and resources. The Government claims it must sell these elephants to get money for conservation because tourists will not come and see the elephants in Zimbabwe — of course they won’t, not while the government attacks its own elephant population by breaking up families and shipping off their babies as a commodity to be traded. It must focus instead on improving the protection of wildlife and recognizing, as demonstrated in a recent report by our iworry campaign, that a living wild elephant could bring in $1.6 million in tourist dollars over its lifetime, making wild herds infinitely more valuable roaming the plains, than sold overseas!
Written by Rob Brandford, Executive Director of the DSWT (UK) 
Find out more about the work of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust at: www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org