Network for Animals has learned that the surviving 23 baby elephants imported from Zimbabwe to China last year are so deeply unhappy that they are displaying aggressive behaviour towards their keepers.

Chimelong Safari Park, a combined zoo and circus in southern China that imported the elephants, is now seeking to introduce a female Asian elephant to the group in an attempt to calm them down.

The elephants are being held in extremely cruel conditions in a barred concrete caged area at a quarantine facility in Qīngyuǎn city, where they will remain for at least two years while a new zoo is being built to house them.

Network’s David Barritt, who is campaigning for China to provide better living conditions for the elephants and to ban future imports of baby elephants, says it is unsurprising that the babies are displaying aggressive behaviour.  “They are stressed, they are traumatized, they are sick and they are being held in cruel conditions in small cages completely unsuitable for their well being.

“It is well established that if they are taken away from their mothers and their herds, young elephants will become aggressive. This is one of many reasons why baby elephants should never be separated from their herds; they need the example of a female elephant to teach and guide them, just like children need guidance in a human family.”

Barritt said the proposed introduction of a female zoo elephant will not solve the problem.  “Providing she has the right temperament, she will be able to give them some comfort, but nothing can alter the fact that these babies are totally traumatized by being snatched from their families in Africa, transported across the world and locked in small cages with no room to exercise.  This is unbelievably cruel.”

“These baby elephants are unlikely to live until the new zoo is ready. There were originally 24 babies, one has already died and the others are in poor condition. They are growing fast and yet are still being held in the same small space.”

Barritt said all Network for Animals attempts to discuss the issue with Chimelong have been ignored.

Outrage about the plight of the babies is growing within China, to the extent that a proposal has been made to National People’s Congress (NPC), the highest organ of state power seeking a law banning future baby elephant imports and an improvement in the living conditions of the Zimbabwe 23.

Master Ming Hai, abbot of Bailin Chan Si monastery, vice president of the Buddhist Association of China, and a delegate to the NPC, said that the basic physiological and psychological needs of African elephants could never be fulfilled in captivity, and hence it is torture rather than conservation of the African elephant.

He said: ‘Ivory represents bloody death, and therefore arouses more interest. However, the eco-ethic and scientific issues caused by the capture of juvenile African elephant’s and life-long captivity, should equally be treated with a serious and careful attitude.’

Master Ming Hai suggested the government consider sending the elephants back to Zimbabwe and releasing them into the wild.

Under the Chinese political system, the government must respond to the proposal, but it has up to the next plenary sessions of the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) to do so. The next “Two Sessions” — the popular name for the plenary sessions   — will be held in early March 2017.

Network for Animals David Barritt welcomed the proposal saying: “The best hope for the elephants is to make Chinese authorities aware that what is happening to the babies is morally indefensible and damaging China’s international image.

“We really urge the Chinese government to urgently consider Master Ming Hai’s proposal and step in to ensure the babies have a bigger space in which to live and to speedily enact the proposed ban on future imports.”