34 baby elephants that Zimbabwe plans to sell to Chinese zoos are stuck in limbo at the Hwange National Park because the Chinese buyer has not paid for their transport.

The elephants are being held in enclosures at the National Park and sources have told Network for Animals (NFA) that they are becoming increasingly unhappy and aggressive.

David Barritt, NFA’s chief campaigner, said the elephants were due to be shipped to China in March, but the deal imploded when no money was paid for transportation.

Barritt called upon the Zimbabwe government to immediately begin preparations to release the babies back into the wild. “This is not an easy thing to do because there is considerable risk that Hwange elephant families might not accept the calves. The young elephants would then be easy prey for lions and other predators,” he said.

“However, there have been cases in the past where babies were successfully integrated into wild family groups and it is really is the only option. It’s risky but would still be better for the elephants than being sent to zoos in China, where they would face short, nasty lives of utter loneliness and misery,” he said.

“This was always a cruel and cynical transaction that involved heartless cruelty towards the babies, some of which are only two years old,” he said. Baby elephants depend on their mothers for milk and nurturing for up to ten years, or until a sibling is born.

Barritt said that the elephants were captured between October and December last year and were supposed to be shipped in March, “this deadline has been cancelled twice and it seems that the deal has now imploded leaving the animals in no man’s land,” he said.

The capture of the baby elephants has been widely condemned by the international community. Zimbabwe at first denied that any babies had been captured and said there was no deal to send elephants to China. Last month, Zimbabwe authorities admitted they had captured the babies and had a deal to sell them to China for $100,000.00 per elephant. In addition to the 34 already captured, Zimbabwe has orders for another 20.

A group of Zimbabwean environmental activists called People and Earth Solidarity Law Network (PESLawyers) are seeking to have a court interdict granting preventing the trade.

China is actively encouraging the acquisition of wild animals as part of a long-term plan to create more zoos to entertain its population. There are now 15,633 zoos in China.