Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe’s minister of environment, announced that his country is planning to capture more baby elephants for exportation to China.
According to Quartz, Muchinguri recently visited an elephant Zimbabwe sold to a safari park in Guangdong, China. During his visit, he told the press “We are happy that young African animals have been well accommodated here in China … We are willing to export more in the years to come to help the preservation of wild animals.”
While this sounds like a promise of animal protection, many say Zimbabwe uses the cover of wildlife preservation as a way to validate their elephant sales. Aside from the money Zimbabwe receives in the trade, Muchinguri claims the exchange is mutually beneficial because it helps his country deal with its drought and elephant overpopulation problem.
Last year, 24 baby elephants were sold to China for $40,000 each. The sale was deemed legal by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) because of, in part, China’s promises not to use the animals in any performances and to work on cutting down the use of ivory in traditional Chinese medicine.
Even with these promises in place, some animal right groups say sending elephants over to China is a bad idea because the country has limited animal protection laws. According to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, seven of the eight baby elephants sent to China in 2010 have died since their arrival.
“They haven’t learned their lesson,” the task force’s chairman, Johnny Rodrigues, told Quartz. “To do what they are doing is inhumane and it’s wrong. We should be looking after these animals in Africa.”
Rodrigues believes close to 165 wild animals, including lions and elephants, will be sent from Zimbabwe to China this year. Before the wildlife is sent over, all of the young animals are kept in confinement for months to get accustomed to humans. The animals are then shipped to places like Chimelong Safari Park, where animals have been photographed with untreated wounds and obvious signs of stress. Advocacy groups also claim Chimelong and other parks force their animals to perform.
Overall, captive baby elephants have a shorter lifespan than their wild counterparts. Elephants raised in captivity usually live to around 40 and are three times more likely to die during infancy, while wild elephants can live into their 70s.
The United States, France and United Arab Emirates have also shown interest in buying wild animals from Africa for their zoos and safari parks.