The live export of elephants is astonishingly still legal in spite of four decades of research that has brought an understanding of the complex intelligence, deep family bonds, and social lives that parallel our own.
We now see beyond any doubt elephants do not belong in captivity, and wild capture causes great physical and emotional trauma for individuals and for the entire herd. It should be noted also that stressed, angry elephants increase potential for aggression against humans.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife management authority (ZimParks) is once again capturing elephants from Hwange National Park to export to China.
The environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri has said: “Zim must sell its elephants because not only are they a global resource but also a local one, as it [the sale] will support the livelihoods of our local communities and for future generations.”
But the story out of Zimbabwe is that Grace Mugabe is settling military debts with China with elephants, lions, hyenas, and giraffes.
The export of wildlife to zoos by Zimbabwe has been challenged by conservationists and by world opinion. But it not only has not stopped, it has also encouraged other countries (including Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania) to do the same, supplying zoos in China, the U.S., the UAE, and elsewhere.
None of the defences put forward by Zimbabwean ministers and wildlife officials are believed or accepted.
There is no evidence and none offered that any revenue from sales are returned to conservation or communities, and no economic justification in any case. But it is very clear that Zimbabwe’s government has no qualms about the sales and no concerns about world opinion. If there is area overpopulation caused by elephants either seeking safe haven or losing migration routes, the elephants should be relocated to other wild areas within Africa.
‘Tourists Against Trophy Hunting ‘ (TATH) is a new international coalition that reflects the growing opposition of tourists worldwide to the senseless “sport” killing of wildlife. Its members include conservationists, ecologists, travellers, travel agents, writers, and bloggers; via social media, the coalition reaches a vast global audience.
It is understood by TATH members that risks to wildlife may be counterproductive if ecotourists collectively protest government policies by boycotting destinations.
However the Zimbabwe government continues to be indifferent to world opinion on the unacceptable cruelty of wildlife export. If governments and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will not protect our wildlife, we are prepared to lobby tour operators, and to use the power of social media.
China has a deplorable record for forcing animals to perform in circus-style zoos or letting them languish in captivity. This is a worst-case scenario for elephants and other wildlife.
Yet on a visit to a safari park in China’s Guangdong province, Zimbabwe’s minister of environment fed a carrot to a Zimbabwean elephant that had been sold to China last year, and told journalists, “We are happy that young African animals have been well accommodated here in China… We are willing to export more in the years to come to help the preservation of wild animals.”
The young elephants are abducted from their mothers, and kept in confinement at Hwange for months, violently “broken” by starvation and beating until they can be handled by zoo keepers. Then they are exported.
Photos taken by activists with Nature University, an animal rights group in China, have documented maltreatment and forced animal performances at Chimelong.
The sale of live animals is highly controversial because it is wrong. CITES states that authorities need to ensure that “the export of the animals would not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild” and would be taken “to appropriate and acceptable destinations.”
If both of these rules were applied, the export of elephants to China or anywhere else would be banned. The removal of young elephants from their herds is highly damaging to the individuals and to the herd as a whole. No zoo, and demonstrably no zoo in China, is acceptable as a destination for an elephant.
As for the reason behind China’s new big interest in acquiring these large numbers of elephants, we can only wonder.
The live trade of elephants and wildlife for profit by Zimbabwe must stop. The elephants now in the holding pens must be released. If not? We will call for a complete tourism boycott to Zimbabwe and to any country that follows its example. This is not a threat, it is a commitment.
Tourists Against Trophy Hunting