ONE of the four elephants exported to China has died and conservationists fear for the lives of the remaining three that are also reportedly in bad health.
There was an uproar from conservationists last year when the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority sanctioned the exportation of the animals.
In a statement yesterday, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues, confirmed that one of the four elephants airlifted to the Asian country in November last year had since died.
He said the Asian Animals Foundation had informed them of the death.
"They [Foundation] say that the four elephants arrived at the end of November 2012," said Rodrigues. "Two went to Taiyuan Zoo, one of which has subsequently died. The other two reportedly went to Xinjiang Tianshan Safari Park."
He added: "We are saddened and disgusted that these elephants have been removed from their mothers and the African bush to live alone in a cold unfriendly jail cell in a foreign country."
Rodrigues said the weather in China is not favourable to the animals.
"We believe the temperature at the Xinjiang Tianshan Safari Park is less than 20 degrees Celcius below zero," he said. "It is highly unlikely the elephants will survive in the cold when they have been accustomed to temperatures of between 30 and 40 degrees."
The wildlife authority last year confirmed exporting four elephants to from Hwange National Park to a zoo in China.
Rodrigues insisted there was still another 14 elephants being kept in a boma [a small enclosure] at the Hwange National Park waiting to be exported.
But the parks authority in December refuted the claims saying only five elephants were currently in the boma and were constantly being assessed by an independent veterinary official.
Both Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority public relations manager Caroline Washaya-Moyo and Environment and Natural Resources Minister Francis Nhema said they were not aware that one of the animals had died.
"I received an inquiry about it, probably from the same person who told you," Nhema said. "I have no clue about the issue as of now but I should be having a report on Monday."
There were concerns that the elephants had been subjected to cruelty as they had to endure a road trip of about 800km from Hwange to Harare before being airlifted.
Animal activists also felt taking the animals to a zoo would be stressful to the elephants as they were not used to such captivity.
Exportation above board: Parks
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority last month argued that the exportation was above board and in line with the country's laws, adding that it had received requests for the purchase of elephants from potential clients from France, Ukraine, United States of America and DRC.