Zim's baby elephants 'will be kept in free-range setting' in China

2015-07-11 06:23

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Harare - The 24 elephants that arrived in China from Zimbabwe this week will be kept "in a free-range setting" and won't be used in circus-type performances, a UN-linked wildlife conservation agency said on Friday.

But the park they will live in is only 1.3km square, it has emerged.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Management Authority of China has told the agency's secretariat that an export permit received from Zimbabwe for the elephants - which were transported amid an international outcry last weekend - is "valid and authentic".

A Zimbabwean vet and two "specialised elephant keepers" have accompanied the elephants and will stay with them for "a few months" at Chimelong Safari Park in Guangdong Province, a statement from the CITES' secretariat dated Thursday said.

The elephants, believed to be calves under the age of eight, were captured towards the end of last year in Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe. Frantic efforts by animal lovers and conservationists to stop their export to China failed. The elephants are reported to have been flown to China on board Uni-Top Airlines, a little-known cargo carrier.

CITES confirmed that Chimelong Safari Park is 1.3 million square metres in size, which equates to 1.3 square kilometres.

National assets and heritage

"The elephants will be kept in a free-range setting and none of the elephants will be used for performances in this safari park," the statement said. Three elephants left behind in Zimbabwe from the original group will not be exported.

President Robert Mugabe's government said that Zimbabwe's current elephant population is far too large at about 80 000 and that it needs the money it can raise from the sale of elephants to fund anti-poaching activities in the country.

A columnist for the state-controlled Herald newspaper, Tichaona Zindoga, on Thursday accused "Rhodesian Selous Scouts" of militating against the export of the elephants, saying: "You get the feeling that rallying around baby elephants could ... be another basis for regime change."

Pictures have been posted on Facebook of baby elephants allegedly being rounded up for export in southern Zimbabwe in the 1970s.

The CITES statement said: "International commercial and non-commercial trade in certain specimens of African elephants from Zimbabwe [including live animals but excluding raw ivory] is allowed by the Convention [CITES] subject to certain specified conditions being followed."

Activists in Zimbabwe vowed this week to fight against any future shipment of elephants.

"This selling of national assets and heritage is not going to go away – all signs are that it will become much, much worse," said a bulletin from a group calling itself Concerned Citizens Lobbying Against the Capture of Zimbabwe's Wild Animals.

Read more on:    un  |  robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa  |  conservation  |  animals

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