By Adam Vaughan
Officials send experts to assess suitability of Chinese zoos as conservationists condemn plan to export wild elephants
Zimbabwe has defended its plan to export 27 live elephants to China, saying it has sent experts to assess the suitability of the Chinese zoos they are destined for.
A Zimbabwean ambassador also said that the sale of the elephants is needed to raise funds for conservation efforts, echoing earlier comments by officials at the country’s cash-strapped Hwange national park.
At least 62 elephants, some of them calves, were reportedly removed from the park last year and are to be exported to countries including China, the United Arab Emirates and France. Conservationists have condemned the plan as barbaric, and over 50,000 people have signed a petition against it.
But Tadeous Tafirenyika Chifamba, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the EU, told the Liberal Democrat MEP, Catherine Bearder, that the export of the elephants was allowed under the wildlife trade convention, Cites.
Cites says the trade in the animals is permitted, provided authorities “minimise the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment” during their transport.
Bearder said she understood Zimbabwe’s need for resources, but was critical of the government pushing ahead with the export. “Separating baby elephants from their herds is cruel and traumatic. Elephants are highly sociable animals and need many years of parental support before they are able to survive away from their herds.
“Moreover, there is a very real risk that those herds affected will take out their frustration on unsuspecting tourists for many years to come. I’m calling on the Zimbabwean government to stop this trade now, both for the sake of the animals involved and the long-term viability of its tourism industry.”
Jeff He, director of campaigns and communications at the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Asia regional office, said: “Unfortunately there are no animal welfare regulations or laws in China that regulate how zoos are run. These animals have been taken from the wild, which sends a very wrong signal to the public. The wild is where these elephants truly belong.”
The collapse in tourism in Zimbabwe has hit national parks and conservation programmes. Hwange has too many elephants – 43,000 in a park capable of supporting 15,000 – according to Geoffreys Matipano, the director for conservation at the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authorities.
But elephants could sell for up to $60,000 (£39,000) each to help the $2.3m annual running costs of the park, Matipano told Bloomberg. The elephants will be exported at some point this quarter, Zimbabwe has said.