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© Ryan Avery
© Ryan Avery

Sourced from third-party side: Digital Journal, written by Karen Graham

Citing a “better and safer environment,” a high-ranking official in Zimbabwe states that more of the country’s wildlife will be captured and sent to China in 2016. The announcement is being met with a considerable amount of scepticism.

“We are happy that young African animals have been well accommodated in China. We are willing to export more in the years to come, as it would help in the preservation of wild animals,” said Oppach Muchinguri, environment minister of Zimbabwe, according to China Daily.

In October 2014, an unknown number of elephants were taken from their mothers in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and transferred to a capture unit where they were held for eight months. After this, 24 were flown to the Qingyuan quarantine facility in Guangdong province in China before being transferred to Chimelong Safari Park, also in Guangdong.

In December 2014, Digital Journal reported Zimbabwe was selling the young elephants for as much as US$40,000 apiece because it needs the money to run the park. At that time, it was reported that the park planned to sell more than 60 elephants to buyers in China, France, and the United Arab Emirates.

Believe it or not, the export of elephants is sanctioned under the Convention on International Trade in Wild Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), as long as the trade in individual animals or plants doesn’t threaten the long-term survival of the species. In 2012, Zimbabwe exported eight elephants to China, according to CITES. Four survived the journey. Three of those died shortly after arriving, leaving one surviving elephant.

The elephants, and apparently other wildlife, will be sent to a national rare animals and plants provenance centre in Qingyuan, Guangdong province. This is all part of an international elephant conservation programme, says the China Daily. The centre is owned by Guangdong-based Chimelong Group.

Muchinguri says Zimbabwe has too many elephants – over 85,000, actually. That number is 40,000 more than the number reported by the African Elephant Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN’s status on species is widely accepted worldwide.

“Because of the bad weather, including drought, we cannot keep the large population of elephants any longer. They consume lots of water, and they need lots of food, which we cannot afford,” Muchinguri said. Her remarks were made during a visit to the Qingyuan animals and plants preservation centre on Thursday.

“Our ecosystem cannot accommodate that large number of animals. So we would rather export and sell more elephants and other animals to those willing to take care of them,” she said.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, in 2014 the total African elephant population was estimated to be around 700,000, and the Asian elephant population was estimated to be around 32,000. Botswana has 200,000 and Zimbabwe 80,000. So the estimated populations may vary, depending on which list you want to cite.

The one question remaining is the status of the elephants in the Chinese reserve. In September of 2015, National Geographic published exclusive photographs and a video showing the two dozen young elephants at the Qingyuan quarantine facility in Guangdong Province, awaiting transfer to the Chimelong Safari Park.

This female, one of 24 elephants airlifted from Zimbabwe to China in July 2015, suffered a wound while housed in the Qingyuan quarantine facility ©CCTV Africa
This female, one of 24 elephants airlifted from Zimbabwe to China in July 2015, suffered a wound while housed in the Qingyuan quarantine facility ©CCTV Africa

The pictures showed the ill-treatment of many of the youngsters, with many looking to be slipping into ill-health, according to experts who examined the photos. The photographs were taken “under-cover” by Chunmei Hu, a project manager with Nature University, in Beijing.

The young elephants were not only suffering physically but also showed signs of emotional and mental stress, according to Joyce Poole, the world’s leading elephant communication specialist and co-founder of ElephantVoices, a Kenya-based research and advocacy group.

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