A story broke a few days ago reporting that more than 30 baby elephants had been captured from their mothers in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, destined for China. A subsequent story reported that a Zimbabwean government spokesperson stated that the elephants were bound for the United Arab Emirates, which was confirmed by the UAE; they aim to import seven elephants for an unnamed facility. But PEGAS has obtained reliable information that a zoo in Guangzhou, China, intends to import 50 elephants from Zimbabwe. In preparation, the government hired a conservation consulting firm to prepare a study entitled “Guidelines for Translocation of African Elephants”. The study recommended that no wild, young elephants be transported, but those concerned should monitor the situation closely to see what actually happens.
This is a repeat on a larger scale of a story that broke in early 2013 about baby elephants going to China. A few elephants actually were shipped, arriving in November 2012, where one died soon after arrival at the Taiyuan Zoo in freezing weather. The CITES Trade Database reports that eight live elephants were imported by China from Zimbabwe that year. Further shipments were temporarily stopped after campaigns were launched by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and Born Free-UK.
Since 2000, the CITES Trade Database indicates that China has imported 54 live African elephants, most of them from South Africa and Tanzania, so this practice is nothing new. PEGAS conducted an extensive Google search, and could only find mention of three African elephants in China, two females at the Nanning Zoo and one male at Beijing Zoo. Either all those imported died, or they are only written about in Chinese, or not at all.
The relevance this case has for great apes is that African elephants and apes are sent to the same facilities in China using similar abuses of the CITES trade permit system. In 2011 China imported 7 elephants from Tanzania, according to the CITES Trade Database. PEGAS has obtained a copy of a Chinese translation of the CITES export permit used to send 4 elephants from Tanzania to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park (see picture at left). The date of the permit is September 2010, and since permits have a six-month period of validity these four may have made up part of the 7 reported in 2011.
In the same month, the Shanghai Wild Animal Park was also indicated on a CITES trade permit as the destination for 8 chimpanzees exported by Guinea (see picture at right). Note on both permits the two boxes next to each other containing a C and a Z. The C source code signifies that the animals were at least second generation bred in captivity and that the purpose Z is a zoo. The Guinea permits are known to be fraudulent, as it has no breeding facilities of any kind, and CITES sanctioned the country in 2013 with a commercial trade ban. China was cleared of any wrongdoing by CITES, a gross miscarriage of justice in the eyes of many observers.
The CITES Trade Database does not report any elephants imported by China with a C source code. However, an Appendix I specimen with a C source code is treated as an Appendix II specimen by CITES regulations, which requires no import permit. The Chinese language permit above, therefore, is probably a translation of the Tanzanian export permit. In any case, Tanzania has no breeding facility for elephants, so the permit is fraudulent in the same way that the Guinea chimpanzee permits were. CITES should investigate to establish the truth of the matter.
The Shanghai Wild Animal Park is not a zoo as defined by any credible zoo association such as the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) or the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and in fact is not accredited by any zoo association. The facility is a commercial amusement park that trains the animals for use in circus performances.
This is possibly what awaits the elephants from Zimbabwe destined for Guangzhou, which has two enormous safari park type “zoos”, the Chimelong complex and the Guangzhou Zoo. Both of these parks use great apes in commercial performances in contravention of CITES regulations, but CITES has taken no action on the practice.
Zimbabwe and China must be compelled to disclose transparently the details of where the elephants are destined and for what purpose they are intended. They should also make public the CITES import and export permits – we already know that the elephants were not bred in captivity, and they were stolen from their mothers. Appendix I African elephants captured from the wild cannot be used for commercial purposes. Common sense would indicate that a multi-million dollar deal involving 50 elephants could be nothing else but commercial.
Will the CITES Secretariat guide appropriate action, or will it maintain its usual pose when China is involved?