Harare - Vets in Zimbabwe confirmed on Tuesday that rangers have captured 27 baby elephants in the western Hwange National Park ready for export to China.
"There are 27 baby elephants there. One has died since capture," said Mel Hood of the independent Veterinarians for Animal Welfare (VAWZ).
"They are all destined for China, these 27. Nobody seems to know when they're going but apparently they will be flown out directly from Victoria Falls," she told Sapa.
News of the capture of the young elephants has provoked widespread international outrage. Activists say it is cruel to take the babies from the rest of the herd, where members are tightly bonded together. They fear the infants, all understood to be between three and five years old, will be mentally traumatised for life.
But the cash-strapped authorities in Zimbabwe say the export of live animals is being done in accordance with international treaties and that they need the money to fund operations in the park.
The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) says lion and sable are also being captured but this has not been independently confirmed.
Hood said the elephants were "being fed properly".
"They are being fed on a programme given to parks by one of the other companies that have elephants in captivity. So they are getting cubes, they're getting bush cuts four times a day and they're getting Lucerne bales. They're getting hay mixed with molasses," she said.
South Africa is one of five countries that have shown interest recently in buying animals from Zimbabwe, the private Newsday reported on Tuesday.
South Africa wants sables and buffalo, Newsday quoted Geoffreys Matipano of the state Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority as saying. China, the UAE and France want elephants, while the DRC wants ostriches, according to the report.