16TH October 2019 

The Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA) has been denied access to the country’s captive elephants, reportedly about to be sent to captive facilities in China. This suggests that welfare concerns are being ignored. The ZNSCPA is constitutionally permitted to access any part of the country if they suspect cruelty to animals. An urgent chamber application for access is likely to be submitted today.

letter has been delivered by hand to the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, urging the Chinese president to halt the reportedly imminent import of 33 captive elephants from Zimbabwe to undisclosed captive facilities in China (word on the ground estimates that the transport will occur today or tomorrow). The letter is penned by a group of thirty-five global specialists in elephant biology, husbandry, elephant management, legal and policy analysis, economics and conservation, most of whom are based in Africa. A similar letter was hand delivered to HE Mr Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, the Zimbabwean ambassador to the UN, urging the President of Zimbabwe to stop the export.  

In response to the news that a Chinese crew had arrived in Zimbabwe last week to prepare 33 baby elephants for export from Hwange National Park, Zimbabwean activists launched a last-minute bid to prevent it. After being forcibly removed from their families, the elephants have been living in captivity for nearly a year. The People and Earth Solidarity Law Network, a Zimbabwean NGO, filed a lawsuit in May 2019 that demanded details of the export deal. The case (HC4289/19) is before the courts but has not yet been heard by a judge. Their lawyers have sent a letter to the lawyers for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), stating that going ahead with the translocation “will amount to reckless disregard of the court process”. 

Tinashe Farawo, a spokesperson for ZimParks, has denied that anything untoward is occurring or that the deal is secret, according to a report in the UK Telegraph. He did not, however, deny that the translocation is occurring. 

The expert letter delivered to HE Mr Ma Zhaoxu, Chinese ambassador to the UN, urgently calls on “the President of the People’s Republic of China to immediately suspend and ultimately cancel the plans for this import.” It emphasises that China has made considerable progress towards becoming a conservation champion through its ‘Ecological Civilisation’ programme and decision to close its domestic ivory markets. In line with a recent decision taken by an overwhelming majority of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – that no elephants may be taken from the wild in Zimbabwe and Botswana and placed in captivity – the letter appeals to Chinese authorities to allow the captured elephants “to be returned to their only ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’, the natural habitats of Africa”. 

Zimbabwe and China are not the only countries involved in this questionable activity. Pakistan has reportedly applied to import 10 African elephants from Namibia. The same group of experts have therefore also hand delivered letters to the Namibian and Pakistani ambassadors to the UN, urging the presidents of both countries to refrain from going ahead with any export-import deal. 

Global opinion has moved strongly towards condemning the holding of elephants in any kind of captivity, as evidenced by an international Indaba on the matter held in South Africa in September. 

Copies of the letters can be found here:

Image: Zimbabwe Elephants – Metro