Conservationists say dozens of young elephants being captured by Zimbabwe’s government may be bound for China, rather than nearby national park
Thursday 29 September 2016 11.11 BST Last modified on Thursday 29 September 2016 11.23 BST
Concerns have been raised that Zimbabwe is again preparing to send dozens of young elephants to wildlife parks in China.
The government’s national park authority, ZimParks, began capturing elephants from Hwange national park in August and keeping them in pens at Umtshibi wildlife capture and relocation unit.
The agency has said it plans to capture about 100 elephants, mostly sub-adults, and contain them in pens for two months before moving them to another park. But conservationists believe the government intends to sell them to wildlife parks in China.
The live export of elephants from Zimbabwe is legal. But it has been criticised by animal welfare advocates who argue the process compromises their complex social and physical needs.
The practice could be curtailed by a proposal to the Cites conference currently meeting in South Africa. The proposal is supported by the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) - a coalition of 29 African nations, not including Zimbabwe - and aims to end the export of African elephants outside their natural range, including export to zoos and other captive facilities overseas.
In the past, Zimbabwe has exported elephants to India, Spain, the US and elsewhere. Last year it sent 24 Hwange elephants to China, provoking an outcry from animal welfare organisations. Experts looking at photos of those elephants – some as young as two – believed there were signs of distress, injury and possibly abuse.
ZimParks denies it is planning to sell elephants to China. It said in a statement the elephants would eventually be moved to Chizarira, about 250km north-east. “The only elephants that have been captured will be translocated to Chirisa [sic] national park under the wildlife drought mitigation strategy (2015-2016). The ... strategy was approved by cabinet in January 2016. The primary purpose of these translocations is for conservation through reduced mortalities due to lack of forage and water in their current habitats because an ongoing drought in Hwange is causing wildlife to die from lack of water and forage.”