Shipment of Baby Elephants: CITES Not Sincere In Its Mandate

Another group of young wild elephants have been abducted from families and “prepared” through harsh training for shipment to zoos some 7000 miles away from home. What happened to the post- Mugabe promises that Zimbabwe’s wildlife would be protected, assumed to mean among other things they would no longer be regularly offered up to settle debts with China, or sold to the Middle East?

By Judy Malone

ZimParks spokesperson, Tinashe Farawo is quoted as saying,“We never export baby elephants, only sub-adults of four or five years old”, as if this – even if true – would somehow make a horrific, ongoing operation acceptable.

The export of animals to China mostly and Dubai has been challenged by conservationists and by world opinion.  None of the defences that have been put forward by Zimbabwean ministers and wildlife officials justify the unconscionable actions.

China declines to comment on its interest in collecting live elephants, and anyway its investments in Zimbabwe industries and infrastructure surely help to ensure the new regime is in line with Beijing interests.

CITES too has nothing to say,  even though this trade violates regulations stating authorities need to ensure  “the export of the animals would not be detrimental to “the survival of the species in the wild” and that they would be taken “to appropriate and acceptable destinations”.   If both of these rules were applied, the export of elephants to China or anywhere else would be banned

Addressing the first, elephants are a species in danger of extinction, with no end to poaching in sight. The violent removal of juveniles from their herds is detrimental to individuals and to the herd as a whole.   And to the second point, experts and common sense tells us no zoo, and demonstrably no circus-themed wildlife park in China, is acceptable as a destination. The world has seen heartbreaking images from China of the lost souls from previous shipments standing chained and listless in cement cells. Since 2012,  Zimbabwe has exported over 100 young elephants to Chinese zoos. There is a standing order for least 200, who knows, and each time these planes lift off with their loads of misery, there is opposition from within Zimbabwe, from other African countries and from the international community.

Zimbabwe’s reputation as a tourist destination has suffered greatly through recent years as relentless exploitation of wildlife, through trophy hunting and trade, is widely exposed.  The defences put forward by Zimbabwean ministers and wildlife officials when these transgressions occur are shameful. Tourists like elephants do not forget, and are increasingly making informed decisions about African destinations, often based on the well-being of the animals we come to see.   The trade of wild animals for commercial exploitation is highly controversial because it is ethically wrong.

What we want to see is a CITES recognition that China is an “inappropriate and unacceptable destination” for elephants.  In a just world and if this international regulatory body was sincere in its mandate, CITES would issue an order to reverse direction. It would demand that these 35 already captured be reintegrated with herds and the kidnapped captives now in China be loaded for the flight back to Hwange, to be prepared for reentry into the wild.

At the very least it would be an official statement that trade to turn this highly intelligent,  socially complex  and endangered species to into “live specimen exhibits” is judged the world community to be illegal.

Judy Malone writes for Tourists Against Trophy Hunting, an international coalition to oppose the exploitation of wildlife everywhere.