More than a dozen frightened, wild baby elephants have been captured by Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), from the Hwange National Park to be sold to Chinese zoos. Zimparks is responsible for conserving wildlife and wilderness resources in the national parks. It all happened early in the morning of August 8, and according to the Guardian, the capture of these baby elephants are kept top secret. You will soon read why.
First, the herd is identified, and then operatives use helicopters to chase and sedate the babies with rifles. When the first elephant falls down, the pilot uses his helicopter to scare the rest of the herd away that would have come to the fallen elephant’s rescue. The team lands, and when the other elephants disperse, the captured baby is is tied up and dragged to the trailers. When five babies were all captured and loaded onto the trailer, the images became heartbreaking.
“Finally in the most disturbing part of the footage,” the Guardian explains, “a small female elephant, likely around five years old, is seen standing in the trailer. Her body is tied tightly to the vehicle by two ropes. Only minutes after being taken from the wild, the animal still groggy from the sedative, is unable to understand that the officials want her to back into the truck, so they smack her on the body, twist her trunk, pull her by the tail and repeatedly kick her in the head with their boots.”
In total, 14 elephants were captured, although the operatives had planned to round up 30 to 40 except one of their helicopters crashed during the operation. The elephants were then kept at a holding facility where they all huddled together out of sheer panic. Elephant Voices, an organization assessing the condition of captured elephants, wrote the following in their report:
“These tasks are our least favourite because the little elephants are so distressed, and the videos and images so heart-wrenching, so gruesome to watch. It is distressing, too, because the zoos that import these young elephants seem to be completely immune to the long-term suffering they cause. But having studied elephants for 40 years we feel we have to do our very best to stop a truly abusive practice…”
Baby elephants are completely dependent on their mothers until two years of age and are not fully weaned until they are five. Many of the calves displayed stressed behaviors recognizable by trunk twisting, curling their trunks under, swinging, head shaking and other nervous motions. The names of the zoos the babies were heading to were not identified, but obviously all were legal. Unfortunately animal welfare is of little interest, and although the criteria sets forth the treatment and care must be “appropriate and acceptable,” no one knows how care is even graded.
According to the Humane Society International, little information is ever provided as to the elephants imported from Zimbabwe, and even when traced to where they were being kept in zoos, many looked sick and ill cared for with sunken eyes and mottled coats. And questions as to why the elephants were being sold were answered with explanations ranging from drought and poaching to the little ones being sold to repay off military debts.
CITES, the only organization available to control/restrict the buying and selling of live animals across international borders, has come under fire for its lack of concern and falling short of the needs of elephants to be placed where there is space, social networks and healthy living environments.
“There is no international treaty to monitor or prevent the terrible suffering that wild capture causes to so many individuals and their families, nor any that concerns itself with preventing the captive lives of deprivation that lie ahead.”
China seems to be making a ton of money on importing the elephants, and while Zimbabwe is an eager partner and zoo visitors love watching elephants, these guys are laughing all the way to the bank – the losers however are the elephants – the ones here and those left behind.
(Photos of baby elephants via the Guardian screenshots)
Check out the exclusive heartbreaking Guardian video: