By Christina Russo
For opponents of Zimbabwe’s controversial plan to export scores of baby elephants, the stakes have just gotten higher.
More than 80 young elephants are being held in a capture facility in Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe, according to sources monitoring the situation there. The sources report hearing of plans to send 27 elephants to Thailand as soon as this weekend, and 60 to China next week.
Zimbabwe’s government would not confirm the reports to National Geographic, and it’s unclear precisely who the foreign buyers would be or what their plans might be for the young elephants, which range in age from two to four years.
Zimbabwe officials have acknowledged launching an effort to sell young elephants—which they say can bring $40,000 to $60,000 each—to foreign buyers. They say this is necessary to reduce an overpopulation of elephants and to bring much needed revenue and ecological balance to their country’s struggling parks. And they say that selling baby elephants abroad is more humane than killing elephants to reduce herds.
Wildlife conservation and animal welfare groups, however, find the export plan alarming on many levels. It could subject young elephants to cruelty, they say, and establish a troubling pattern at a time when African elephants are being slaughtered en masse to satisfy the demand for ivory, notably in China and other parts of Asia.
Since mid-January, National Geographic has been communicating through an intermediary with the Zimbabwe-based sources. The primary source, who asked not to be identified because of the personal risks involved in passing on such information, says that more than 80 elephants are being held in groups of ten at the Umtshibi capture facility in Hwange National Park. Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest park, at more than 5,600 square miles.