Each elephant calf is expected to be sold for up to $60,000 (£39,400), with Geoffreys Matipano, the director for conservation at the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authorities, quoted by Bloomberg as saying that the money would go towards funding running costs at Hwange National Park (where many of the calves where sourced). Zimbabwe’s tourism minister, Walter Mzembi, has defended the plan, citing it as a solution to the country’s current ‘over-population’ of elephants, and accusing dissenters of jealousy over the deal. The exact number of elephants residing in Zimbabwe is disputed, with recent aerial surveys recording a population of 58,000, whereas the government’s official statistics place that number nearer the 70,000 mark.
The calves, allegedly between two-and-a-half and five years old, are still at an age where separation from their mothers is known to be both physically and psychologically damaging. One calf is already known to have died during this ordeal, with another subsequently sourced as its replacement. While trade in elephants is not illegal in Zimbabwe under the CITES agreement to protect wildlife – it merely has to be properly regulated – there have been widespread protests over the plan, with conservationists fearing that even if they survive the journey, the animal’s quality of life will be severely diminished. A petition has also been set up calling on the Zimbabwean government to put an immediate stop to the plan.
While the government has remained silent over the exact purchasers of each animal, it has confirmed that the animals will be shipped to the United Arab Emirates, France and China. ‘You can’t take these animals out of Africa and send them to these inhumane areas where they’ve got no good track records,’ Johnny Rodrigues, of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) stated.
ZCTF has previous success in this field – in 2012 it managed to return five Zimbabwean elephants marked for export to China and returned them to the wild. Of the four trades it was unable to stop, the organisation claims that only one of those elephants remains alive.