A number of groups, led by the Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation (ZEF), will stage a silent protest outside China’s embassy in London on 24 May. The NGOs are protesting the “inhumane” export of baby elephants from Zimbabwe to the country.
The practice, whereby baby elephants are brutally torn from their families in Africa and sold to countries to display in their zoos, is entirely legal. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is the body tasked with ‘protecting’ endangered species, says it’s permissible.
But the NGOs say it’s “heart breaking and shameful”. And they are heading to China’s embassy to make that clear.
Heartbreaking and shameful
ZEF has organised the protest. Humane Society International (HSI), Animal Defenders International, Action for Elephants UK, and the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting will also join the protest.
The groups say that Zimbabwe has exported 108 young elephants to zoos in China and the UAE since 2012. In 2016 alone, the country exported 35 baby elephants to Chinese zoos. Claire Bass, the executive director of Humane Society International/UK, called the practice “heart breaking and shameful”. She said in a press release:
Video footage shows that these young elephants are already displaying stress behaviour after being ripped away from their mothers and bonded family group, and are likely terrified. In the wild, calves remain closely bonded to their natal family groups; females never leave their families whilst males only leave their herd at 12 – 15 years of age. Such callous disregard for the physical and emotional wellbeing of these highly intelligent and socially complex animals is utterly inexcusable and casts a sordid light over both Zimbabwe and China.
The available evidence supports this assessment. HSI has released footage showing officials violently mistreating baby elephants during capture:
Meanwhile, images of elephant calves transported to China show the animals with injuries. The animals also exhibit behaviour that suggests they are suffering emotionally, according to elephant behaviour specialist Joyce Poole:
“Not everything in Africa is for sale”
ZEF’s Nomusa Dube has organised the protest to show opposition to Zimbabwe treating wildlife like it’s something that “can be uplifted and sold like a ripe fruit off a tree”. She said in a press release:
Zimbabwe’s Elephants are the jewels in her crown, do not sell them.
Dube also has a message for China. She says it needs to understand that “not everything in Africa is for sale”. That may be true. But, unfortunately, a lot of its wildlife is. Zimbabwe, along with a number of other African countries, allows trophy hunting, for example. It’s where a hunter notoriously killed Cecil the lion in 2015. The country recently announced that it’s going to remove the ban on killing buffalo with a bow and arrow. Such weapons generally lead to a longer, painful death for animals – especially for animals like buffalo with thicker skin – as was the case with Cecil himself.
Botswana, meanwhile, which until now has been a haven for Africa’s elephants, just lifted its ban on trophy hunting of the species. Not to mention the brutal treatment suffered by Asia’s elephants for use in tourism.
All these countries are making these decisions because of money. There are plenty of wealthy, often western, hunters, zoos, and tourists willing to pay money for these animals to be at their disposal. And there are few governments from where these wildlife ‘consumers’ hail that are willing to do anything to remove their role in the slaughter and abuse.
Thankfully, there are groups and people fighting the animals’ corner. It’s shameful, however, that those we task to ‘lead’ us don’t have it in them to do the same.
Featured image via Wikimedia – Charles J Sharp