Zimbabwe has sold several wild elephants to a Chinese tourist resort, outraging conservationists.
Conservationists and activists have demanded the release of 27 elephants since they were first captured in northwest Zimbabwe eight months ago.
In December 2014, actor Pierce Brosnan, best known for playing James Bond, also called on fans to to write to Zimbabwe’s environmental minister and protest the proposed sale of elephants to China and the United Arab Emirates.
Despite public outcry, 24 of the elephants have been transported by air to China this week. They will take up residence in Chimelong Safari Park, a corporate leisure center in Guangzho. On Monday, environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere confirmed all of the elephants have arrived alive in China on a privately-owned freighter plane.
The elephants will be added to the 20,000 animals that currently reside at the 300-acre Chimelong Safari Park. The park has thus far avoided any major accusations of animal abuse or poor living conditions by conservation groups. However, since their capture, the elephants have not been seen by any representative from an animal welfare group, leading to concern on the elephants’ living conditions.
A request from the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, asking to inspect the animals, was denied by Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Activists are also concerned over the stress inflicted on the young elephants as a result of being separated from family members and their grueling transportation schedule. The elephants transported out of Zimbabwe were driven by road for ten hours, before undergoing a nine-hour flight to Dubai and then a transfer to China.
Elephants are highly social animals that form close, lifelong bonds with family members. The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force has also alleged the captured elephants were under five years old, young enough to still be dependent on their mothers’ milk.
Zimbabwe has defended the sale of the elephants, which were sold for at least $40,000 each, saying the money would help fight poaching. Authorities say they have been strapped for cash to fund conservation efforts, particularly since banning foreign hunters from bringing their trophies back to their home countries. Government authorities attest that elephants in Zimbabwe are overpopulated and wreak havoc on the crops of local farmers, and relocating them is preferable to a cull.
Kasukuwere encouraged concerned activists to check on the elephants at Chimelong, and said wildlife officials would also visit China to assess their condition. Rowan Martin, a well-known elephant expert who was hired to help oversee the elephant’s transport, also tried to downplay concerns, saying the elephants were already partially-domesticated and would be given a larger environment than they would in an American or European zoo.
Zimbabwean conservation groups have challenged the government’s official figures for the elephant population. They are calling for an immediate halt to the capture and sale of wild elephants and demanding a scientific census be taken before any additional animals are transported out of the country.