At the centre of a protracted wrangle, SADC’s elephant population has ballooned, worrying governments in the region

HARARE– An animal rights campaign groups here has filed a High Court application to pile pressure on the Government of Zimbabwe to halt a planned translocation of 30 young elephants to zoos in China.

People and Earth Solidality Law Network (PES), which claims that there has been unrestrained abuse of elephants shipped to foreign zoos from Africa, said it had to resort to court action after efforts to engage the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management (Zimparks) yielded little progress.

The rangers only gave “vague” statements, PES said in its court papers filed on Friday. It raised grave concern over reports of ill-treatment of jumbos in foreign zoos, as well as the complete change in climate and weather that confronts elephants in their recipient countries.

PES wants the High Court to compel Zimparks and the Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry to make full disclosures about these and other issues before exportation of jumbos. “Zimparks has initiated the process of capture and transportation of young elephants to China,” PES said in the court papers seen by ENN on Saturday.

“These processes are shrouded in mystery, and the respondents have failed, refused and neglected to render information. In refusing to share information, Zimbabwe violates domestic law and treaty obligations to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The court application follows a three-month struggle by PES lawyers and other groups to compel Zimparks to stop planned export of over 30 young elephants and to release information,” added PES. “The application calls for the respondents to release all information relating to the planned export of elephants from Zimbabwe to any foreign country, especially information on the buyers, numbers, specific destinations, selling prices. The action comes at a time several environmental and animal rights groups are calling for the preservation of the African elephant and scrutiny on the treatment of exported animals in zoos outside Africa.

There have also been recent controversial decisions by neighbouring countries such as Botswana to lift a ban on elephant hunting,” the statement said. With a combined elephant population of about 250 000, Zimbabwe and Botswana hold the world’s largest population of the jumbos, which has become a huge burden for the countries to manage, in addition to serious threats to the region’s biodiversity.

Zimbabwe has been exporting elephants mainly to China, in order to manage their rising population which, at 81 000, has outstripped the carrying capacity of about 45 000. It hopes to deploy funding from this limited trade to fund conservation programmes and manage its forests.

Harare agrees with Botswana, Namibia and Zambia that this is the best route to pursue. At an elephant summit held in Kasane, Botswana early this month, the three countries agreed to push for the lifting on a ban on elephant trade imposed by CITES over a decade ago in order to achieve their conservation goals. Animal rights campaign groups that raised several concerns over this strategy.