The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The South African.
These elephants have been held in captivity for nearly a year after being forcibly removed from their families.
This action constitutes a direct violation of the recent decision taken by the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that no elephants may be removed from their natural habitat or historic range. Any exceptions to this ruling must demonstrate positive conservation benefit and be approved by the CITES Animals Committee and the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group. It does not appear that the current export constitutes anything like an ‘exceptional circumstance’ as defined by CITES.
The capture of elephants from the wild
for the purposes of captivity and trade is prohibited in SA under the National
Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa (2008).
A letter by a group of 40 elephant
specialists calls on Zimbabwe not to defy the CITES ruling and contravene its
own national legislation that does not allow the export of elephants without
the consent of their rightful owners, the people of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is not
contributing to conservation and is risking its tourism reputation by
continuing to embark on these sales. Even avid promoters of the ‘sustainable
use’ principle have
criticised the shameless sale of the country’s national
heritage for no observable long-term benefit.
Another letter by the same group has
been addressed to the Chinese Prime Minister, urgently requesting that the
import of baby elephants be terminated. The elephants need to be rewilded if at
Signatories to the letter include
Lenin Chisaira, Nomusa Dube and Lynne James of Zimbabwe, Dr Paula Kahumbu, Dr
Winnie Kiiru and Jim Karani of Kenya, Dr Joyce Poole of ElephantVoices, Dr
Keith Lindsay, Dr Marion Garai and Dr Gay Bradshaw.
China has made considerable progress
in becoming a beacon for conservation in recent years. Among other policy
initiatives, it has embarked on an ‘Ecological Civilisation’ programme and shut
down its domestic ivory market. As an important party to CITES, it is difficult
to understand why China would now risk its international reputation to import
baby elephants into captive facilities that serve no conservation purpose and
clearly impair the elephants’ welfare.
Removing baby elephants from the wild
is now globally understood to be an ecologically and ethically unacceptable
practice. Using helicopters, adult elephants are forced away from their
children, which are then darted and moved into tiny bomas. There they suffer
visible distress and disorientation.
Elephants in captivity cannot thrive and can no longer truly be categorised as elephants – they tend to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and have a far lower life expectancy than they would in the wild. To truly be elephants, they need environmental and social enrichment, and the wild space within which to exercise choice in respect of these needs. Keeping elephants in captivity is cruel and cannot be justified as a conservation endeavour in any sense of the word.