In cell phone camera footage obtained by CNN, young elephants appear distressed as they are kept in holding cells, waiting to be exported

By Benjamin VanHoose
November 26, 2019 12:42 PM
African elephants
Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It’s a heartbreaking sight for animal lovers to behold — cell blocks full of young elephants behind bars, distanced from their herds and awaiting a life of exploitation by humans.

That’s the situation on display in new cell phone footage obtained by CNN, which, in a new report, explores the international wild animal trade out of Zimbabwe.

In the video, the juvenile African elephants appear distressed, pacing back and forth while stuck in a holding pen. The creatures are being held, according to CNN, until they can be exported to China, where they’ll likely be put to work in entertaining capacities such as circuses and theme parks.

The 30 elephants at the center of this investigation, led by international correspondent David McKenzie, are originally from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, which more than 100 mammal species call home.

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African elephant
MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images

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When McKenzie and his crew went to the holding area to observe the conditions, the manager of the site claimed he had “no idea” about the elephant boma, the holding pen the elephants are kept in as they await being traded.

Chrispen Chikadaya, a senior inspector of the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said elephant traders specifically target elephants old enough to survive without their moms but small enough to fit in shipping crates.

“They experience severe stress,” Chikadaya told CNN. “They don’t have the freedom they have to move around like they do in the wild. If you put them in cages, you have now taken away the wild in them.”

The capturing is currently done legally — in fact, a spokesperson for Zimbabwe National Parks told the outlet it’s a process that’s gone on for decades.

“We have moved animals to the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. This is not a new phenomenon in this country,” the spokesperson said. “We think people should be scientific and ask what the facts are, not the emotions.”

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The spokesperson continued, “People act like we don’t love these animals, that we are abusing them. It is not true, because we are looking after our animals very well.”

Elephants are such a lucrative trade for Zimbabwe — the government, according to CNN, recently profited $2.7 million by selling 90 elephants to Dubai and China — that its president told reporters over the summer the country needs to participate in the sales to fund conservation efforts for the animals.

A new law, however, aims to crack down on trade in the coming weeks, but activists fear the transactions will just go under the table.

“It all should be transparent,” Chikadaya said. “We should know that our animals are being translocated. And we need to know what benefit it has for conservation.”

He added, “Our wildlife belongs to Zimbabweans. It doesn’t belong to one person; it doesn’t belong to an organization.”