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Since 2015, Network for Animals (NFA) has fought the cruel trade in baby elephants captured in Zimbabwe and sold to Chinese zoos.

China is notorious for its poor living conditions of captive elephants and total disregard for the rules of CITES – the world organization that regulates the international trade in wildlife.

In 2016, one of our teams travelled to China and presented authorities with solid evidence of 35 baby elephants that were illegally exported to the country the previous year. The authorities did nothing. We tracked down the elephants and found them being held in small cages and severely mistreated at a Chinese zoo quarantine center. Still, nothing was done by the Chinese authorities.

In 2019, after extensive international criticism, CITES banned the trade of wild animals beyond their home regions. This should have meant an end to Zimbabwe’s trade but, as NFA’s executive director David Barritt explains: “Zimbabwe simply flouted CITES and immediately exported two more baby elephants.”


Barritt went on to say that much of the blame for this lies squarely with CITES which has an appalling record of enforcing worldwide rules. Rogue states like Zimbabwe continue with the abhorrent cruelty involved in sending baby elephants to zoos because they know they will get away with it.

Barritt said that when Network for Animals contacted CITES and offered proof that Zimbabwe was exporting baby elephants on forged CITES permits, they were told that CITES has no law enforcement arm.

A new report by West African governments to CITES exposes the extent of this destructive trade and raises the question of whether the organization – which has often been accused of being ineffective in protecting endangered wildlife – will ever take action against Zimbabwe to stop its elephant population from being exploited by a greedy and corrupt political elite.

According to the CITES trade database and information on the latest 2019 exports, Zimbabwe exported 140 juvenile elephants to China, and four to the United Arab Emirates between 2012 and 2019. Of these, some 22 are now dead or presumed to be dead. Reports indicate that many others have died in the process of capture and preparation for export.

Since 2012, the pattern for the capture and export of African elephants has been the same – juvenile elephants ranging in age from two to four years old (or less, as appeared to be the case with the October 2019 exports). Those who are four to seven years old are all captured from wild herds within the Hwange National Park. If the age estimates of the youngest elephants in this range ¬– less than two years old – are accurate, this is below the age of weaning, and removal from their families would thus be life-threatening.

The plight of these baby elephants is ongoing and NFA will continue to bring you – its supporters – updates as more information on this case unfolds. We will never stop in the fight against animal cruelty and continue investing in measures to save these baby elephants.


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