The Free Elephant Network Calls For The End To The Live Elephant Trade Between Zimbabwe and China

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Banner Image: Wild-caught young elephants are held captive in a fenced boma by Zimbabwe authorities awaiting shipment to China in October 2019 © Oscar Nkalain / Humane Society International/Africa – “Opinion: Zimbabwe’s shameful export of baby elephants under the guise of ‘sustainable use’,” Africa Geographic, 18 November 2019

Posted at EMS Foundation, 11 December 2019

Dated 11th November 2019

The open letter is addressed to:

His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa President of Zimbabwe

His Excellency Xi President of People’s Republic of China

His Excellency Imran Khan Prime Minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan

The Secretariat of CITES,

In light of the disturbing recent captures and exports of wild African elephants from Zimbabwe for display in zoos and circuses in China, twenty-two professionals1 in elephant protection, science, and care have called for an immediate end to the live trade in wild-caught elephants. At least 141 wild-caught elephant calves have been exported from Zimbabwe to ex-situ destinations since 2012, primarily to China.

In the wild, elephants are long-lived, social, and intelligent animals2 who live in complex societies with vast social networks. Young elephants are highly dependent on their mothers and other family members for protection and to learn necessary social and behavioural skills, with African males only leaving their family group at 12 to 15 years old and females remaining for life. Any disruption to the elephants’ social bonds is physically and psychologically traumatic for adults and calves alike.

The recently exported Zimbabwean calves have been subjected to severe trauma at two levels. Firstly, the trauma of being removed from their natal herd. Secondly, after being together for nearly a year, the trauma of being split from their captured group and sent to different facilities. This second event may be even more severe because of the calves already compromised physical and emotional well-being. Once individuals have forged strong friendships and found comfort in each other, their forced separation can result in cumulative, life-long impacts on their psyche and behaviour. In fact, the captured Zimbabwean calves are certain to experience long-term adverse effects on their health and welfare as they grow up lacking the normal social, psychological, physical, and environmental conditions that are crucial to the wellbeing of these complex and highly intelligent animals.

The forcible capture and removal of wild elephants from their home ranges and social groups is archaic and unethical, and their export offers no conservation benefits3,4. Elephants adapt poorly to life in captive facilities, where they have shorter lifespans5 and breed poorly, if at all6. Research shows that the viability of elephants is profoundly impaired when brought into zoos, where infanticide, infectious diseases, abnormal repetitive behaviors, infertility, and chronic (and ultimately lethal) foot and joint disorders are prevalent.

We strongly support the outcome of the 18th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in August 2019, which overwhelmingly7 resolved that the only ’Appropriate and Acceptable destination’ for live elephants exported from Zimbabwe or Botswana should be “in-situ conservation programmes or secure areas in the wild, within the species’ natural and historical range in Africa, except in exceptional circumstances8.’ The resolution, which was supported by the overwhelming majority of governments present at the meeting including most African elephant range States and the European Union, came into effect at the end of November. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe chose to cynically ignore the clear will of the international community by exporting more than 30 elephant calves in advance of this date.

We stand together with elephant experts and wildlife protection groups across Africa and around the world – including the African Elephant Coalition9, an alliance of 32 African countries, and many organizations and individuals within Zimbabwe – in condemning the export of wild-caught elephants from their natural habitats to captive facilities for human amusement, and call for an immediate end to this cruel trade.

The most recent export took place in October 2019 when more than more than 30 wild-caught elephant calves, some as young as two, were transported to captive facilities in China where they will be displayed for entertainment. Together, as 108 NGOs and members of the Free Elephant Network concerned about the welfare and practice of capturing wild elephants for captivity, we call on:

His Excellency President Xi:

  • To permit visiting African elephant experts to evaluate the physical and mental health of the elephants to review their current situation. *
  • To declare a permanent end to all imports of African elephants from the wild as part of China’s growing commitment to global conservation, as seen in the country’s contributions to the protection and restoration of species and biodiversity, taking a leading role in climate change mitigation, and banning ivory trade.

His Excellency President Manangagwa:

  • To abide by international trade resolutions and announce a permanent cessation of the capture and export of wild elephants to ex-situ destinations.

His Excellency Prime Minister Khan:

  • To uphold the non-issuance of the No-objection Certificate (NOC) for the import of wild-caught African elephants for zoos in Pakistan10.


The CITES Secretariat:

  • To investigate the final destinations for the calves exported from Zimbabwe in October 2019 and determine whether they conform to CITES rules, resolutions and guidance, including Resolution Conference 11.20 (Rev. CoP18)11, and the non-binding guidance for determining whether a proposed recipient of a living specimen is suitably equipped to house and care for it. If not, every effort should be made to secure the safe return of the calves to Africa for rehabilitation and reintegration, or if this is not possible, their transfer to an appropriate sanctuary.

Please accept, your Excellencies, the assurances of our highest consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Signed by the following FREN Members and Elephant Experts:

  1. Suparna Baksi-Ganguly – President and Co-Founder, Wildlife Research & Rehabilitation Centre, Bangalore, India
  2. Penny Banham – Conservation Project Officer, Born Free Foundation United Kingdom
  3. Dr Cynthia Moss – Director, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya
  4. Dr Paula Kahumbu – WildlifeDirect, Kenya
  5. Dr Winnie Kiiru – Founder, Conservation Kenya
  6. Dr Joyce Poole – Co-Director, Co-Founder Elephant Voices, Kenya
  7. Dr Brett Bard – Veterinarian, South Africa
  8. Dr Lucy Bates – Independent Researcher
  9. Dr Jessica Bell Rizzolo – Postdoctoral Researcher, the Conservation Criminology Lab, Der of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University
  10. Professor David Bilchitz – Director, the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public and Human Rights and International Law
  11. Dr Gay Bradshaw – Director, Elephant Aid International
  12. Carol Buckley – Director, Elephant Aid International
  13. Dr Marion Garai – Chairperson, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, Trustee Elephant Reintergration Trust, South Africa
  14. Dr Michelle Henley – Director, ElephantsAlive, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, South Africa
  15. Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach – Head of Wildlife Research and Animal Welfare, World Animal Protection
  16. Antoinette Van de Water – Director, Bring the Elephant Home, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, South Africa
  17. Megan Carr – Vice President, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos
  18. Lenin Chisaira – Founder, Advocates 4 Earth – Green Law Connect, Zimbabwe
  19. Dr Betsy Coville – Wildlife Veterinarian, United States of America
  20. Dr Harvey Croze – Collaborating Researcher, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya
  21. Audrey Delsink – Wildlife Director, The Humane Society International (Africa)
  22. Catherine Doyel – Director of Science Research and Advocacy, Performing Animal Welfare Society USA
  23. Nomusa Dube – Founder Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation
  24. Stefania Falcon – Co-Founder, Future 4 Wildlife, South Africa
  25. Michel Franko – Senior Research Associate – Elephant Care & Wellbeing at the Kerulos Centre for Non-Violence, USA
  26. Chief Stephen Fritz – Traditional Leader, Members of the South Peninsula Customary Khoisan Council, South Africa
  27. Petter Granli – Co-Director, Co-Founder, Elephant Voices, Kenya
  28. Johanna Hamburger – Wildlife Attorney, Animal Welfare Institute, USA
  29. Rachel Harris – Managing Director, Elephant Human Relationships Aid, Namibia
  30. Dr RossHarvey Wildlife Economist, Botswana
  31. Alok Hissarwala Gupta – Elephant Specialist, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisation IrisHo
  32. Iris Ho – Senior Wildlife Specialist, The Humane Society International
  33. Lynne James – Committee Member of Free Elephant Network, Mutare, Zimbabwe
  34. Dr MarkJones – Veterinarian, Born Free Foundation, United Kingdom
  35. ProfessorMohanKharel – Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal
  36. JimKarani – Advocate, Lawyers for Animal Protection in
  37. Kahindi Lekalhaile – Africa Network for Animal Welfare, Kenya
  38. Smaragda Louw – Director, Ban Animal Trading, South Africa
  39. Linda Masudze – Advocate 4 Earth, Zimbabwe.
  40. Varda Mehrotra – Executive Director, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations
  41. Brett Mitchell – Director, Elephant Reintergration Trust, South Africa
  42. Mary Morrison – Advocate, Wildlife Direct, Keny
  43. Michele Pickover – Director, EMS Foundation, South Africa
  44. Dr Yolanda Pretorius – SA Wildlife College, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group and Elephant Reintergration Trust, South Africa
  45. Sharon Pincott – Elephant Behavioural Specialist, ex-Hwange, Zimbabwe
  46. Dr DJ Schubert – Wildlife Biologist, Animal Welfare Institute, USA
  47. Ed Stewart – Director, The Performing Animal Welfare Society
  48. Amy P. Wilson – Director, Animal Law Reform South Africa
  49. Peter Stroud – Independent Zoological Consultant – Former Zoo Director, Australia
  50. Prof Dan Wylie – Rhodes University, South Africa

Endorsed and signed also by the following Organizations:

51. Ed Lanca – Chairman, ZNSPCA, Zimbabwe

52. 신주운(JunShin) – 정책팀 Policy Team, | 전시 야생동물 담당 Exhibited animals and wildlife

53. Doug Wolhuter – Wildlife Protection Unit, NSPCA, South Africa

54. Greg Salido Quimpo – President Animal Kingdom Foundation, Philippines

55. Barbara Webb – Director, Himalayan Animal rescue Trust, Nepal

56. Louise van der Merwe – Director, Animal Voice Academy, South Africa

57. Jacquie Kyle – Co-Founder, MelbournDolphin, Australia

58. Mahesh Agarwal – General Secretary, Sahayog Organisation, India

59. Sam McElroy – Operations Director, SOI Dog Foundation, Thailand

60. Lola Webber – Co-founder/ Director, Change For Animals Foundation

61. Eileen Weintraub – Founding Director, Help Animals India, Seattle, WA USA

62. Karen Trendler – Director, Working Wild, Southern Africa

63. Upreshpal Singh – Director, Friends of the Orangutans, Malaysia

64. Pamela Malhotra – Trustee, Save Animals Initiative, Sanctuary Trust, South Kodagu District, India

65. Amy Van Nice – Director, Wildlife Alliance, Protection to Forests and Wildlife Cambodia

66. Br William Ng – JPIC Delegate, Franciscan Order Hong Kong

67. Wong Ee Lynn – Animal Welfare Programme Manager, SPCA Selangor Malaysia

68. Dr Narendra Pradhan – Program Coordinator, IUCN Nepal Country Office, Nepal

69. Mara McCaffery – Orangutan Aid, Hong Kong

70. Mageswari Sangaralingam – Honorary Secretary, Sahabat Alam, Malaysia

71. Greg Salido Quimpo – President, Animal Kingdom Foundation, Philippines

72. Leanne Fogarty – Founder & Director, Society for Travelers Respecting Animal Welfare

73. Jenni Trethowan – Founder, Baboon Matters, South Africa

74. Toni Brockhoven – Chairperson, Beauty Without Cruelty, South Africa

75. Sam Dewhirst – Director, Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education, South Africa

76. Fiona Miles – Director, Four Paws, South Africa

77. Linda Tucker – Founder, Global White Lion Protection Trust, South Africa

78. Louise de Waal – Founder, Green Girls in Africa,

79. Les Mitchell – Director, Institute for Critical Animal Studies, Africa

80. Bool Smuts – Director, Landmark Foundation, South Africa

81. Steve Smit – Co-Founder, Monkey Helpline, South Africa

82. Kim Da Ribeira – Director, Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching, SA National

83. Prathna Singh – Coordinator, Sea Shepherd South Africa

84. Lex Annett – Director, Southern African Fight for Rhinos

85. Dave Du Toit – Founder, Vervet Monkey Foundation, South Africa

86. Guy Jennings – Director, WildAid, Southern Africa

87. Pippa Hankinson – Director, Blood Lions, South Africa Campaign Director, Ban Trophy Hunting

88. Siobhan Mitchel – Campaign Director, Ban Trophy Hunting

89. Stephen A Wiggins – Founder, International Wildlife Bond

90. Matthew Hamid – In Defense of Animals, Director of Campaigns and Legislative Affairs, USA

91. Kevin Schneider – Executive Director, Nonhuman Rights Project

92. Alina Guzinska – Director, Hollow Paws

93. Dawn Magowan – Director, Animal Protection & Environmental Sanctuary, South Africa

94. Nicola O’Brien – Campaigns Director, Freedom for Animals

95. Sam Duncombe – Executive Director, reEarth, Bahamas

96. Grace Yoxon – Director, International Otter Survival Fund, Isle of Skye, Scotland

97. Gil Michaels – CEO/Founder, Animal Guardians, USA

98. Dr Nandita Shah – Medical Doctor, Kuilapalayam, Auroville, India

99. Jackson Zee – Director, Disaster Relief Unit, Four Paws

100. Hannah Surowinski – Director, Nowzad, Kabul, Afghanistan

101. Daniel Rolke – President, Djurrättsalliansen, Sweden

102.Taffy Williams – President, NY4Whales, USA

103. Anna Kogan Nasser – CEO and Founder, Forgotten Animals UK

104. Dr Nedim C Buyukmihci – President, Unexpected Wildlife Refuge

105. Rachel Hevesi – Director, Wild Futures, UK

106. Sanjib Kumar Das – Member, People for Animals, Odisha, India

107. Angie Greenaway – cutive Director, Animal Defenders International, LONDON

108. Lorena Herceg – AFC Project coordinator, Animal Friends Croatia

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