Letter to the Zimbabwe CITES Authority re concerns over the continued wild capture and subsequent export to inappropriate and unacceptable destinations of Zimbabwean elephants

Jun 21, 2019 | Documents

The CITES Authority

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority

Harare Zimbabwe.

Date: 13th June 2019.

Dear Sirs,

Re – concerns over the continued wild capture and subsequent export to inappropriate and unacceptable destinations of Zimbabwean elephants.

As registered animal welfare and environmental representatives in Zimbabwe we write to you on the above issue. Whilst this is our first approach directly to the office of CITES, we have independently made many previous representations, both in person and in writing, to ZPWMA on this very issue. Some of these communications are attached. Sadly none of our many approaches to ZPWMA have resulted in the action that we believe is required, hence our approach directly to your office as the current international body whose function it is to oversees such trade in Appendix II  listed wildlife.

Our objections to the wild capture and export of Zimbabwean elephants are based on the following 4 points:

  1. That the reasons given by ZPWMA for the necessity of these exports, being the generation of revenue and population control, are not supported with sound evidence, are in direct contravention of  their mandate as custodians of our wildlife heritage, and are even unconstitutional.
  2. That the exports do not meet with CITES own clearly stipulated regulations for such movement of wildlife.
  3. That, regardless of any regulations or laws being flouted in this process, the capture of wild elephants and their subsequent lives, or rather slow deaths, in captivity involves an unacceptable level of cruelty at every stage in the process which is impossible to ignore, comprehend or condone in animal welfare terms.
  4. That the damage to tourism within Zimbabwe is extreme and lasting, yet tourism, particularly ecotourism, is the very solution to ZPWMA financial crisis.   

Below we briefly expand on each of the above objections.

  1. The pretext on which these wild captures are based cannot be substantiated by ZPWMA or the Zimbabwean Government.
  2. The generation of revenue: it is claimed by ZPWMA that wildlife sales are necessary to generate income to support Zimbabwe’s National Parks.  However, there is a complete lack of transparency around these sales, from the number of elephants involved; to the identity of the buyer/s; to the supposedly ‘appropriate and acceptable’ destinations (also supposedly certified as such by a reputed animal welfare organisation); to the sum of money involved and to whom actually receives these funds. Even a formal legal approach by PESLawyers to request for this information to be release into the public domain, where it rightly belongs, has been ignored. ( See Appendix 1: PESLawyer letter to ZPWMA dated 26th February requesting access to said information; Appendix 2:  ZPWMA’s reply; Appendix 3: PESLawyers reply; Appendix 4: Petition to the Parliament of Zimbabwe by PESLawyer; Appendix 5: PESLaywers court application for an interdict.)

 In 2010, the then Director General of ZPWMA, Mr. Vitalis Chadenga, referred to these wildlife exports as a ‘business arrangement’. It would appear that this is an honest and accurate description.

Through your office we challenge ZPWMA to declare all funds received by them from these sales and to clearly indicate how they have been utilised to the benefit of conservation.  

  • Population control: to the best of our knowledge the live capture of young elephants as a method of controlling elephant populations is completely unsubstantiated by any scientific research.

We are of the strong belief that should the population of any wildlife species need to be controlled the method employed to do so must to be both proven and the most humane available. The brutally traumatic and unethical capture of young elephants by separation from their wild families, their subsequent incarceration in zoos and circuses, where it is now widely accepted they will suffer both physical and psychological heath issues, not to mention the cruelty involved in the ‘training’ processes, is clearly grossly inhumane on every level.

(Appendix 6: Joyce Poole – Meeting the interests of Elephants; Appendix 7: Asia for Animals Coalition letter; Appendix 8: Public statement in Herald .)

Through your office we challenge ZPWMA to prove otherwise, to the satisfaction of the experts in this field, including to the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

  • These exports do not meet with CITES own clearly stipulated regulations for such movement of wildlife.
  • Article IV 3 of the Convention: implies that the ‘Scientific Authority’ in question is capable of making sound independent scientific decisions. In Zimbabwe this is not the case, as the ‘Scientific Authority’ is in fact an employee of the ‘ Management Authority’, thus curtailing their independence and negating a checks and balance within the system.

We formally request that CITES reviews  Article IV 3 to ensure that ‘Scientific Authorities’ are indeed independent scientific authorities on Appendix II species who can act accordingly in the best interests of the wildlife concerned.

  • Article V1 5 (B): ‘any living specimen will be so prepared and shipped as to minimise the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment’.

All the scientific knowledge we have available to us today shows elephant to be highly intelligent, sensitive and sentient beings that form deep relationships within their family groups. Their young suckle until they are 4 years old. The removal of ANY elephant from this strong family network, let alone the removal of their young calves, can only result in suffering on a scale that is hard to imagine.  Then there is the ‘cruel treatment’ aspect involved in the entire capture process.

(Appendix 6: Joyce Poole – Meeting the Interests of Elephants; Appendix 7: Asia for Animals Coalition letter; Appendix 8: Public statement in Herald .)

We request CITES to adhere to Article VI 5 (b) by recognising the ‘risk of injury, damage to health’ and ‘cruel treatment’ involved in this entire live export process.

  • Resolution Conf. 11.20 ( Rev. CoP17) : ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’.

Again, all the scientific knowledge that we have available to us today points to the fact that elephants do not thrive in captive situations.  Zoos and circuses are clearly NOT appropriate or acceptable destinations for wild animals, in particular for elephants.

We feel strongly that in any team responsible for assessing these ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ must be included both animal welfare and African Elephant Specialist Group representatives.

It must also be noted that to date, to the very best of our knowledge, Zimbabwean animal welfare representatives have NOT approved the destination sites that they have inspected in China. Regardless the animals were shipped. This constitutes a breech in the Convention.

Furthermore:  CITES ‘recommends that all parties have in place legislative, regulatory, enforcement……to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment of live elephants and rhinoceroses in trade.’

Registered animal welfare representatives need to be involved in every step of any live capture to ensure the best interests of the animals are met. To date registered Zimbabwean animal welfare organisations have found that they are totally excluded from the capture process, and are, at best, on the very fringe of the entire post capture process, which amounts to a state of ‘lock down’ at the boma site . It must be noted that this is in direct contravention of our National Law, Chapter 19.09: The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act Article 12 (1) (rights of entry by Inspectors), which follows that CITES Article IV 2(b) has also been transgressed. This being the case no CITES permits should have been  issued for these exports.

Furthermore: ‘the Scientific Authorities of the State of import and the State of export are satisfied that the trade would promote in situ conservation’.

The IUCN issued the following clear statement in 2003 opposing the capture of wild elephants:

     “Believing there to be no direct benefit for in situ conservation of African Elephants, the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission does not endorse the removal of African Elephants from the wild for any captive use.”

As it is now beyond all doubt that life in captivity, especially in zoos and circuses, literally guarantees the likelihood of ‘injury, damage to health’ and ‘cruel treatment’ of elephants, and that live capture has not been endorsed by the African Elephant Specialist Group on conservation grounds, we formally request that CITES ban the live export of wild caught elephants to a life in captivity.

  • That the capture of wild caught elephants is cruel beyond measure: throughout the entire Convention there is no reference to the involvement of reputed and registered animal welfare organisations in the process of capture and translocation. Even genuine ‘Scientific Authorities’ are not necessarily representatives of animal welfare, and what is needed at the time of capture and translocation is to maintain the highest possible animal welfare standards throughout these operations.

In Zimbabwe, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (Chapter 19:09), is a strong act. At this time the Act only applies to domestic animals and wildlife in captivity, which is a grave oversight. However, out of interest the act considers the following activities by the ‘owner’ to be prosecutable offenses for cruelty to domestic animals (Section 3, (a), (g) and (f):

  1. cruelly beats, kicks, ill-treats, overrides, overdrives, overloads or tortures any animal or causes any animal so to be used;
  2. cruelly or unnecessarily ties up or confines any animal or causes or permits any animal to be tied up or confined;
  3. being the owner, permits in any manner aforesaid any unnecessary suffering to be caused to any animal or permits such animal to be infuriated or terrified as aforesaid;

It should be clear to anyone working with animals, regardless of their domestic or wildlife classification, that the above constitute cruelty. It should also be clear to anyone who has knowledge of the wild capture process and what follows in their confinement in zoos and circuses that all three of the above are relevant. Because elephants are so large, so social and so long lived, they are particularly susceptible to abusive treatment.

We challenge CITES to recognise exactly what happens to wild caught elephants that end up in captivity, and to act accordingly to protect them from this by stating that captured wildlife may only be sent to approved habitats that must fall within that species existing ‘home range’ states and may NOT include captive locations.

  • Zimbabwe’s tourism image:  the negative impact to Zimbabwe’s tourism from the international outrage that these wild captures result in is hard to over state.  The public are increasingly discerning in their choice of destination, and they care about the welfare of animals. Through social media they are current as regards such public issues.

 If ZPWMA instead acted as the custodians of our National Parks as opposed to the looters, the resulting tourism would indeed go a long way to solving their revenue deficit. The loop hole of wild captures needs to be closed and genuine ecotourism supported on every level.

We look to CITES to act swiftly on all of the above issues, and to treat this letter with the urgency that it deserves.

 36 wild caught elephant are pending shipment from Zimbabwe as we write to you. The onus is now squarely on you to act according to your own Convention, according to our own National laws, according to the  opinion of the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN, and according to standard animal welfare practise world wide.


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