Zimbabwe Sell 24 Wild-Caught Baby Elephants to China

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Earlier this year, Zimbabwe caused an international outcry when its plans to sell wild-caught elephant calves to overseas buyers were revealed. Unfortunately, despite petitions and calls for the plans to be dropped, this weekend saw 24 of the animals shipped out to China to be put on display in zoos and circuses.  

It's estimated that each calf was sold for between $40,000 and $60,000, which the government claims will be put towards conservation efforts, specifically to pay the wage of rangers whose job it is to protect the animals in the first place. They say that they currently have too many elephants in Hwange National Park, the country’s largest park, and the options are either selling or culling them.   

Conservationists around the world have criticized the move, especially since the young animals had to be torn from their mothers. “The conditions in which these animals were exported are extremely cruel,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the animal rights group Conservation Task Force, told AFP, “and we condemn the whole idea of separating baby elephants from their mothers.”

Paradoxically, the sale of the elephants isn’t actually illegal under international law, despite restrictions on the trade of products derived from elephant parts, such as ivory. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty drawn up to protect wildlife against over-exploitation, selling the calves qualifies as a means for generating conservation income.

According to official reports, Zimbabwe has about 80,000 elephants, but claim that could easily be reduced to 42,000. This is despite the fact that over the past two years alone, it’s estimated that 100,000 of the animals have been slaughtered for their ivory. Furthermore, Hwange National Park, where they claim the elephants are from, suffered the highest massacre of animals in southern Africa in 25 years when hundreds of elephants were killed by poisoned waterholes.

An investigative article published in National Geographic earlier this year showed the holding facility for 80 young elephants before they were exported to foreign buyers, but some claim that the Zimbabwean government have sold up to 200 of the baby animals to China alone. It’s not even clear that all the animals were caught in Zimbabwe itself, as many of them are suggested to have originated in Botswana, Zambia, and even Namibia. 

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