Zimbabwe allegedly flies 30 elephants to China in the wake of devastating drought

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Zimbabwe is believed to have sold at least 30 young elephants to China in the last few days as drought hits the country.

Park officials are reported to have said proceeds will be used to dig more wells to save other wildlife.

At least 55 elephants died in September this year, the BBC reports.

Animal welfare groups have lashed out at the government over the sale of the animals, arguing it will traumatise the wildlife family.

“We have been campaigning against the capture and sale of wild elephants and the way they are taken to places outside of their traditional areas. Usually they are taken to zoos and there they are broken down in a very cruel manner,” Lenin Chisaira, director of the Advocates4Earth environmental group, told the BBC.

However, Zimbabwe’s National Parks service says the best option is to sell the animals to earn more to save the rest in the wake of a devastating drought.

Spokesperson Tenashi Farawo said the animal rights campaigners are only stirring up emotions.

Reports say as a result of indiscriminate mining around the national park, sources of water have been affected.

According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangerd Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES), if the development is found out to be true Zimbabwe risks sanctions. In August, a near total ban on live elephant exports from Zimbabwe and Botswana was agreed, however, the decision takes effect from November 26.

According to the CITES trade database, Zimbabwe has previously exported 108 young elephants to zoos in China since 2012.

Elephant-rich nations like Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia are seeking a lift in the ban in ivory trade placed by CITES, the global organization that regulates the trade in endangered species.

Zimbabwe currently has about 85,000 elephants, but the country can only cater for 55,000, according to officials.

To ease overpopulation and raise funds, the government, in 2017, sold 35 elephants to China, amid criticism from animal welfare activists that such sales are unethical.

An IOL report said that this practice dates back to the era of former Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, where wildlife was often sold to Asian and Middle East countries to settle debts.

Zimbabwe’s repeated capture and export of infant elephants to countries like China has been condemned over concerns that Chinese zoos and safari parks do not have any legally-mandated animal welfare standards.

“Many zoos throughout China keep their animals in isolation and neglect, with very poor veterinary care. Ever since these cruel exports started, they have sparked global condemnation, because of the horrific conditions in which the young elephants are kept,” said Animal People Forum.

Several animal rights organizations have, over the years, opposed the capture and trade of wild infant elephants for captivity. This follows other concerns that African elephants are currently listed as a threatened species, with less than 500,000 remaining in the wild.

Many animal rights campaigners across the world are of the view that these precious animals must be conserved, however, Zimbabwe continues to do the opposite, “ripping baby elephants from their families and homes and sending them to live and die in captivity in zoos,” said Animal People Forum.

“Zimbabwe continues to exploit its wildlife to the highest bidder with no meaningful oversight. Recognising elephants as sentient beings, South Africa has banned the capture of elephants from the wild for captivity. Zimbabwe must urgently follow suit to redeem itself,” Humane Society International/Africa’s wildlife director and an elephant biologist, Audrey Delsink, said in February.