Update: Zimbabwe’s wild-born elephants flown to China

A baby elephant and family

“… But there was one Elephant–a new Elephant–an Elephant’s Child–who was full of ‘satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions. And he lived in Africa, and he filled all Africa with his ‘satiable curiosities …”
(Rudyard Kipling’s ‘ The Elephant’s Child’)

A deal has been done – a sale has been agreed and the animals delivered … but not everyone is happy. The animals sold are young, wild-born Zimbabwean elephants, and the buyer is China.

Zimbabwe is selling not just the family jewels, it’s selling family.  It is exporting them as though they were goods, to a remote land that has little experience of the needs of this great, intelligent species.

The African elephant

“Natures great master-peece, an Elephant,
The onely harmlesse great thing; the giant
Of beasts;…” (John Donne (1571 -1632): The Progresse of the Soule – First Song: Verse XXXIX)

Last Saturday, the 4th of July 2015, the 24 captive creatures were taken from Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, to Chimelong Safari Park, Guangzhou, in the south of China – over 11,000km away.

Animal welfare organisations around the world are desperately concerned about the mental and physical health of these elephants following months of cumulative trauma.

Over the last nine months the animals have had to endure the following:

  • early, sudden separation from their family groups;
  • months of confinement in small pens;
  • the shock of days of transport, first by road and then by air; and finally,
  • arrival on a different continent, to a new climate with new standards of care.

Zimbabwean authorities say that funds raised from the sale will go to support the work of the country’s national parks.  Will the money raised will ever reach its stated destination?

Many voices have questioned the legitimacy of the deal itself, but the organisation governing such transactions, CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), states that no rules have been broken.

This knowledge does little to calm fears.  Three out of four baby  elephants sent to China in 2012 died in poor conditions.  Added to this is the manner in which Zimbabwean authorities have handled the recent sale.

" ... you represent to perfection everything that is threatened today with extinction in the name of progress ..." (Words of Romain Gary in Dear Elephant, Sir)

” … you represent to perfection everything that is threatened today with extinction in the name of progress …” (Words of Romain Gary in Dear Elephant, Sir)

The transaction was carried out in stubborn secrecy which aggravated concerns, especially in Zimbabwe where the intelligence and social needs of the African elephant are widely known.

Zimbabweans, and many on the outside, are also divided over the question of whether or not the country has more elephants than its land and natural resources can manage.  Some insist this is true, and that the recent sale is a profitable solution to the problem, whilst others refuse to accept the claim due, they say, to a lack of reliable, recent data.

France made their position clear

France made their position clear

Accusations and counter-claims have led to secrecy and suspicion, and resulted in the dangerous isolation of the captured elephants.

Today the young animals are in China.  They are the first batch to arrive, with rumours that many more may follow.

The hope has to be that any future sales will be handled with greater transparency, and that the focus will never waver from the welfare of the elephant.

Young African elephant

The fun of mud

“Turn our eyes and hide our souls, don’t let it be whispered that this happened on our watch.”

Here are links which you may find of interest:

Statement from CITES regarding Zimbabwe’s sale of elephants to China

An article in The Telegraph written in June 2015 about the sale

An article in National Geographic (December 2014) regarding the then ‘proposed’ sale

An article on elephant stress by Charles Siebert in the New York Times in 2006

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018



2 thoughts on “Update: Zimbabwe’s wild-born elephants flown to China

  1. The story of these baby elephants is heartbreaking. Seriously. Nothing … absolutely nothing is sacred in Zimbabwe any more. It is such a tragedy. Thanks for sharing, Georgie.


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