Zimbabwe's plan to sell 34 baby elephants outrages activists

Posted Dec 27, 2014 by Megan Hamilton
Zimbabwe's Hwangwe National Park plans to sell elephants for as much as $40,000 each because it needs the money to run the park, officials say. The park plans to sell more than 60 elephants to buyers in China, France, and the United Arab Emirates.
An African elephant is pictured on November 17  2012 in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe
An African elephant is pictured on November 17, 2012 in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe
Martin Bureau, AFP/File
This has wildlife advocates worried, and some say the plan is inhumane, The BBC News reports.
The money raised by the sale of the elephants could help meet the park's $2.3 million dollars it costs to run the park each year, said Geoffreys Matipano, conservation director at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authorities, The Bloomberg News Agency said, per The BBC.
"We are pursuing it aggressively as part of conservation efforts because we have plenty of elephants here," he said. "We don't receive state funding and we rely on selling animals for our day to day operations. We are nowhere near what we want."
The money would also help to combat poaching, Matipano said. Poachers poisoned 293 elephants with cyanide last year, he added, and this year 139 have been killed.
While not disclosing the names of buyers, Matipano said buyers from France were seeking 15 elephants, China 27, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)15, per The BBC.
In November, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) said it had received "very disturbing reports of animals being captured" in the national park for export to China.
Tourists had alerted the ZCTF after witnessing the animals being taken in Hwange. The group reportedly saw a helicopter hovering over an elephant herd, with shots being fired to frightening the animals into running. The baby elephants weren't able to keep up with their mothers, and were rounded up and taken to a compound seven kilometers from the Park's main camp, Planet Experts reports.
While China has ordered 30 lions, so far 34 baby elephants, seven lions, and 10 sable antelope have been captured, the ZCTF reports. The elephants are between two-and-a-half and five years old. They are kept in a compound and then sent via container trucks to Maputo, the organization reports. From there, the animals are shipped on a livestock sea freighter to China.
Elephant in a circus in Vietnam.
Elephant in a circus in Vietnam.
"Why is Zimbabwe stealing from the future generation's natural resources? The baby elephants quite likely won't survive the trip and the only crime they have committed is being born in Zimbabwe," the organization said in a statement. "They are now being sentenced to a life of inhuman treatment. This is very traumatic, not only for the baby elephants but also for their families. Elephants don't forget and this is very dangerous for future visitors to Hwange."
Elephants as commodities
"For elephants, being held captive for decades in a circus or in the majority of the world's zoos is gruesome. It's a fate worse than death," Joyce Poole told National Geographic. Poole is the founder of Elephant Voices, an advocacy and research organization. She has studied the emotional lives of elephants for over 40 years.
Highly intelligent, elephants do not do well when they are forcibly separated from their herd, Planet Experts reports. Baby elephants are dependent on their mother's milk until they are five years old. If they are separated from their mothers, the little elephants become overwhelmed with grief and starve to death rapidly.
Poole began speaking out against the capture of baby elephants in the late 1990s, National Geographic reports. She'd gone to court as an expert witness in South Africa regarding a case that involved the capture of 30 babies in Botswana. The Botswana Wildlife Department had given a company permission to capture the elephants so that they could be sold to foreign buyers.
The young elephants were transported to a warehouse in South Africa where they were to be trained for zoos, circuses, safari parks or for elephant-back safari trips, National Geographic reports.
Asked to review footage that showed the treatment of the elephants at the training facility, she wrote in a statement that she didn't see any elephants older than age five.
She described both the capture and the confinement as "cruel" and wrote that "when the elephants were first brought to their holding area, they were trembling and screaming." She could also see grief in their faces.
"Those of us familiar with calves who have been orphaned or mothers who have lost their calves do recognize this very familiar expression," she wrote.
As tragic and horrifying as this cruel practice is, it's not illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Planet Expert reports. Wild elephants can be traded to zoos, or for other commercial purposes. They can even be traded for "personal" reasons--whatever that means.
"We know capture of wildlife is happening for sale, as the country is so desperately broke" said Colin Giles, a member of Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe, per Planet Expert.
Under President Robert Mugabe's corrupt regime, wildlife has suffered immensely.
David Coltart, is a Zimbabwean senator with the Movement for Democratic Change, which opposes Mugabe's ruling ZANU PF party.
In an email to National Geographic, he wrote that "[the] government is desperate for foreign exchange and revenue. Furthermore, we have seen such rampant abuse of our wildlife in the last 14 years that this would be consistent with [what] the ZANU PF Government has done during this period ... There is very little 'wildlife management' left in Zimbabwe. Whilst there are dedicated individuals in national parks, wildlife has been plundered by a predatory regime."
Under the dual demons of ivory poaching and being sold as entertainment, it's a wonder that wild elephants can still be found in Africa. At the rate in which these magnificent creatures are being plundered, they won't be around much longer, and the world will be a poorer place as a result.
 My  elephant Kitirua at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi  Kenya.
'My' elephant Kitirua at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.
Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage