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Elephant calf mistreated after capture in Zimbabwe
Footage from the capture of the elephants in Zimbabwe © The Guardian
Opinion post: Written by Simon Espley, CEO of Africa Geographic


Attention: Your Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa, president of Zimbabwe

As another shipment of wild-caught baby elephants from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe jets out of Victoria Falls airport on Ethiopian Airlines to zoos and private collections in China, it’s surely time to call this for what it is: Just plain evil.

This is not a conservation or ‘sustainable utilisation’ issue – the removal of this quantity of elephants will certainly not impact significantly on wild elephant populations, or alleviate the claimed pressure from ‘too many’ elephants on vegetation in Hwange. This is also not about what is permissible under CITES regulations.

No, this is quite simply about people in positions of authority abusing their power to do each other favours. This is about return favours between high-level people in Zimbabwe and China – “you approve this transaction and I will throw in a few baby elephants for your entertainment” sort of thing. These baby elephants are trinkets on the arms of people who do not care about brand Zimbabwe or the dignity or well-being of individual creatures.

If you are not well-advised on how elephants fare in zoos, this quote is from Peter Stroud, the former curator of the Melbourne Zoo from 1998-2003, who was involved in sourcing elephants from Thailand:

“There is now abundant evidence that elephants do not and cannot thrive in zoos,” Stroud says. “Young elephants will never develop naturally as socially and ecologically functioning beings in zoos. They will face a very long and very slow process of mental and physiological breakdown resulting inevitably in chronic physical and mental abnormality, disease and premature death.

Moving aside from the moral issue, does it make business sense to endanger your tourism industry, just to keep this barbaric practice going? Zimbabwe is a beautiful and diverse country, with good wildlife populations, fantastic lodges and warm, welcoming people. If you have any doubt about how the world of safari-goers feels about this practice of selling baby elephants to zoos, why not ask them? Use social media to reach out – and ask them. Then get clever people to quantify the negative response into likely ongoing loss of tourism business. You decide if the cost is worth the supposed benefit.

If hugely important commercial and political agreements between Zimbabwe and China are dependent on baby elephants being tossed in as by-products, then perhaps you need to ask yourself just how serious China is about Zimbabwe in the first place.

Mr President, your recent rise to power provides a unique opportunity to rid Zimbabwe of this cancer – this morally bankrupt notion that everything is for sale – even baby elephants. Perhaps it’s time to give this issue your attention, and to take action? Zimbabwe’s tourism industry would certainly benefit if you took action and drew a line in the sand. Please, Mr President.

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I am a proud African and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, elusive birds and real people with interesting stories. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered accountant but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn

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