Zimbabwe’s young elephants await ‘dispatch’

Elephant calf at peace

“And foe to none, suspects no enemies, …”

Zimbabwe does not hide the fact that it has young elephants in captivity awaiting export – 27 of them between the ages of three and five.  All in this particular group are due to be flown to China.

The official reason given for the sale is that it will raise money for the country’s National Parks.  There are many who doubt that the money paid will ever benefit Zimbabwe’s wildlife.

Animal welfare organizations around the world are deeply concerned about the fate of this current group of elephants.  In 2012 Zimbabwe exported four baby elephants to China – three of the four are now dead with the surviving elephant said to be in poor condition.

Footage of the living conditions faced by some of the original four elephants was widely circulated on the internet.  The rusted bars of the bare, dark concrete cells could not have been more different from the bush-filled expanses the elephants had grown up in.  Yet, incredibly, their new homes are said to have been inspected by Zimbabwean officials in advance of the sale.

Wild elephants in Zimbabwe

Wild elephants in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s neighbour, South Africa, has for many years refused to allow the commercial trade of its wild elephants.  The country’s Elephant Norms and Standards (ENS) law, out of respect for the intelligence of the animals and their strong family bonds, has insisted that all human interference with wild elephants herds should be minimised.  Sadly the South African government is now facing pressure to amend this law.

However, as one law wobbles another ruling is finding a foothold in Argentina where a court has decided that Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan, should be granted limited human rights since she has been recognised as a ‘non-human person’.  Is the same not true of elephants?

The Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights(AFADA – “Asociación de Funcionarios y Abogados por los Derechos de los Animales”) is the organisation that argued so hard for Sandra’s right to greater freedom and space.  One of their lawyers, Paul Buompadre, was quoted in La Nacion:  “This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories.” 

This has to be good news for elephants, one of the few mammals, alongside chimpanzees, human toddlers, and dolphins, to have passed the mirror, or self-recognition, test.   The National Geographic describes one version of the test in the article reached via this link.  Here is a YouTube clip showing an elephant taking a form of the test for the first time.

The concern of animal welfare groups about Zimbabwe’s current export plans is understandable.  It might be helpful if the individuals who negotiated the sale on behalf of Zimbabwe were to come forward to explain their reasoning and to clarify the conditions demanded by both parties.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2017

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