Zimbabwe's government is facing serious criticism for allowing the export of live elephants to China, with accusations that entire families of elephant are being 'destroyed'.
According to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) four juvenile elephants were exported last month, in a journey that included a 12 hour drive in the back of a truck from Hwange to Harare, before being shipped by air for 10 hours to Dubai. From Dubai the animals were then flown to Beijing.
ZCTF chairman Johnny Rodrigues told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that, "the fact that these elephants are juveniles indicates that they are being taken away from their mothers, and family units are therefore being destroyed." He explained that the family links within elephant herds are very strong and removing the very young is devastating to a herd.
Another 14 juvenile elephants are reportedly being held at Hwange, also awaiting exportation in January 2013. The ZCTF said in a report that the final destinations of the elephants are two zoos in China.
"Some elephants do not survive the stress caused by such long trips, not to mention the fact that the ones that do survive will be subjected to a life of captivity in a habitat they are not born to live in," Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues had strong words for the government's wildlife authorities, who he said "are meant to be the guardians of our wildlife."
"We already have a poaching problem and we believe the authorities are now in business with the same poaching syndicates to export live animals. So the people who are meant to be protecting wildlife are the same perpetrators," Rodrigues said.
He also dismissed the government's repeated arguments that Zimbabwe is 'overpopulated' with elephant, explaining how no audits have been done in recent years to support this claim. Rodrigues argued that rampant poaching has decimated the elephant population and more should be done to protect the animals.
"The whole world should stand against what is happening and be the guardians of these majestic animals. Because one day there won't be any left if this keeps happening," Rodrigues warned.