China’s looting of Zimbabwe’s baby elephants must stop!

Apr 29, 2019 | Commentary

By Nomusa Dube

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it.” – Frédéric Bastiat

Over the past several years, news sources have reported dozens of instances in which infant elephants are captured from the wild in Zimbabwe, flown to China and forced into miserable lives in captivity.

In all over 100 of Zimbabwe’s elephants now languish in Chinese zoos. The practice is ostensibly legal, but ‘legal’ does not mean ‘moral’.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulates the export, re-export, and import of live animals through a system of permits and certificates. These permits may only be issued if certain conditions are met.

These conditions have not been met. The zoos are horrific, and are far from appropriate or acceptable. What’s more, the captures and transactions have been done in secret, why? Were the elephants not legally obtained?

It seems that false permits have been issued. There appears to be collusion between government officials and criminal syndicates where baby elephants and other wildlife are disappearing from national parks without paperwork. Reports have indicated that China is engaged in “the forced dispatch of prisoners to work on overseas infrastructure projects.” Are these the same criminals that operate syndicates that are secretly working with Zimbabwean authorities to take wildlife out of the country? Is this also why the welfare of these animals is completely ignored?

In October of 2017, heart-breaking footage of young elephants being captured in Zimbabwe to be sold to zoos in China was published. The video shows officials physically abusing a terrified young elephant – twisting her trunk, pulling her tail, and kicking her in her head with their boots so that she would back into their truck.

Many injuries incurred on the little elephants during capture and quarantine. There have even been deaths. This is besides the trauma of being ripped from their mothers and placed in tiny enclosures before being flown thousands of miles to China. Baby elephants at that age are vulnerable to infections from poor milk formula and exposure to extreme weather in Chinese enclosures.

Elephants are highly intelligent, sensitive creatures that share lifelong family bonds. They roam over vast areas, enjoy bathing and mud-bathing in large bodies of water, and foraging great distances across the savanna for natural food – needs that can never be met in captivity.

The babies live in quarantine for months both before and after they reach their destination. If they survive, they will likely endure horrific abuse and languish in misery for the rest of their lives. They suffer from extreme distress, injuries and neglect. We all know China’s track record when it comes to the way they treat animals. It is sickening to still see this happening. It is all well and good that it’s now illegal to buy or sell ivory in China, but still legal to trade in live elephants.  Does China intend to harvest and market its own ivory in the future with elephants taken from Zimbabwe? Are they banking on extinction of African elephants in the wild?

As a Zimbabwean, it is heart-breaking to imagine the suffering that my country’s elephants endure – both those who are shipped into captivity and their family members who are left behind to grieve.

We, the global community, must send a strong message to China that this barbaric treatment of Africa’s icons is totally unacceptable, and it must stop.