WASHINGTON: Zimbabwe's plans to export baby elephants deserve swift condemnation from the United States, conservationists told a federal judge.
They also claimed that some of the elephants do not even belong to Zimbabwe and were being captured in Botswana and Zambia.
Friends of Animals and Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force say they petitioned U.S. official within days of the January 12 announcement from Zimbabwe that it would export about 62 baby African elephants to China, the United Arab Emirates and France.
Thailand has since replaced France on the list of buyers ready to pay $40,000 per elephant, according to the June 4 complaint those groups filed.
The groups note that their petition sought a policy statement by the United States, condemning Zimbabwe's export of African baby elephants, and that they have waited a reasonable amount of time before seeking judicial intervention.
Though Zimbabwe's government says its ecosystem can sustain only 42,000 elephants, and that it has in excess of 80,000, the conservationists call this claim "outrageous" and discordant with "the overwhelming amount of studies proving the decline in elephant populations in Zimbabwe."
It has been just 11 months since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that Zimbabwe's survey of its elephant population failed to determine if it has a surplus for hunting, according to the complaint.
The process of rounding up baby elephants is heart-breaking, the groups note.
"To capture the baby elephants, helicopters hover above the herds and fire shotguns until the herd scatters," the complaint says.
"The baby elephants that cannot keep up are kidnapped. The captured elephants are usually between two and five years old - a time when they are heavily reliant on their mothers."
The groups say some of these elephants do not even belong to Zimbabwe.
"Many of them are being captured in a national park that borders Botswana and is less than 100 kilometres from Zambia, which makes it very likely that the elephants only spend some of their time migrating through Zimbabwe," the complaint states.
"These countries rely on having elephants in their own parks and tourist industries and if Zimbabwe unilaterally takes them it will continue to generate tension and controversy between these countries."