Zoos in China pay handsomely for baby elephants from Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped national parks
Not long ago this elephant lived with its family herd in the wilds of Hwange National Park, the largest reserve in Zimbabwe. Then it was caught, and along with three other young elephants, flown halfway around the world.
At Taiyuan Zoo, where Chinese animal lovers filmed the plight of the little lone elephant behind bars, another that came from Zimbabwe died soon after its long and difficult journey. The elephants arrived in late November, during a winter of record cold temperatures.
Now animal rights groups in Zimbabwe are fighting to stop more of their country’s baby elephants from being taken from the wild and sold to zoos in China, which pay handsomely for these animals from Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped national parks.
China and Zimbabwe have close political and economic ties, with trade between them reaching more than $800 million last year. There is no shortage of elephants in southern Africa and there is demand in China, but animal rights groups argue it’s inhumane to take young animals from the wild and send them on difficult journeys to overseas zoos where they are kept — often in dire conditions.
Dave Neale, director of animal welfare for the Animals Asia Foundation, said that trade in wild elephants caught and sold by Zimbabwe to China is legal under CITES, the international authority that regulates trade in wildlife.
But it is “far from ethical,” he said.
Elephant calves form close bonds with their mothers and other female relatives, Neale explained, and removing a young elephant from its herd in the wild to captivity is devastating. Many of the calves die, he added.
“From a moral standpoint, removing a highly intelligent, social animal from its family group and wild habitat to be shipped to another country and placed inside a concrete cell cannot be justified,” Neale said. “This trade in wild-caught elephants is morally repugnant and should stop immediately.”
After news of the young African elephant’s death at Taiyuan Zoo, five other 3- and 4-year-old elephants slated to be sent to China were returned to the wild following weeks of pressure from the Zimbabwe National SPCA. While animal lovers cheered this success, by that point it was impossible for the young elephants’ family herds to be located.
And while that shipment was stopped, animal rights groups say there are reports of four more baby elephants soon to be exported to China.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, has been working to draw attention to the situation, and fears this won’t be the end. He said that Chinese zoos have paid for a total of eight elephants, and when public attention lessens, the rest of the order will be shipped.
“When everybody cools down, these animals are going to go,” Rodrigues said.
He said that Zimbabwe’s national parks badly need the money — they have been unable to pay the wages of employees the past few months.
Caroline Washaya-Moyo, spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the government agency that runs the country’s national parks, couldn’t be reached by phone despite repeated attempts, and didn’t respond to emails requesting an interview.
Ed Lanca, chairman of the Zimbabwe National SPCA, said this moneymaking venture by Zimbabwe’s national parks “is basically kidnapping.”
“It’s unacceptable that a baby elephant is taken from its mother and sent to a foreign country with substandard conditions,” he said.
Lanca said the Zimbabwe National SPCA, which is barely surviving on limited private donor funding, has too few resources to help monitor the exports of elephants. His organization only has two animal welfare inspectors for the entire country, and their last truck capable of making out-of-town trips recently broke down.
“If another export happens, we can’t assist because I don’t have the means to intervene,” he said. “It’s dire.”
More Related Stories
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- Cicada mating, by the numbers
- Catholic Church in market for more exorcists
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Boy Scouts to members: Just don't be a gay adult
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- My text blew up in my face
- Boy Scouts end ban on openly gay boys
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Pope Francis: Atheists are all right!
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Salon is proud to feature content from GlobalPost, an awarding-winning international news site that focuses on original reporting from journalists stationed around the world. GlobalPost combines traditional journalistic values with the power of new media to offer a fresh perspective on global developments.