To address what it says is an elephant overpopulation problem and make some money, Zimbabwe has sold young elephants to China in recent years.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BEVERLY JOURBERT, NAT GEO IMAGE COLLECTION
GENEVAYesterday at the 18th triennial meeting of an international wildlife trade treaty, countries approved a proposal that limits the export of wild African elephants. It says that elephants from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa can only be exported to African countries where elephants live or used to live. There’s one exception: Export may be allowed if a country can prove that there’s a real conservation benefit to sending an elephant elsewhere.
The proposal proved to be one of the most contentious topics of the entire two-week meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), in which 182 countries and the European Union gathered to discuss trade regulations. (Learn more: Read about other big decisions from the conference.)
Animal welfare groups and many conservation organizations lauded the decision, although some southern African countries objected vehemently, and the U.S. and a European zoo association expressed reservations.
“It’s a huge victory for animal welfare that the abduction of baby elephants from their families to be held in zoos has been banned,” says Frank Pope, CEO of the Nairobi-based nonprofit Save the Elephants. Many other animal welfare and conservation organizations echoed these sentiments.
The capture and sale of live elephants has come under increasing criticism as scientists have learned more about the complexities of elephant behavior and intellect. Elephants often refuse to leave their sick or dying behind. They’re smart, social creatures with family bonds that last a lifetime. And in recent years, evidence has stacked up that they use tools, work together to achieve common goals, mourn their dead, and are capable of empathy. During certain times of the year African savanna elephants are highly gregarious, with hundreds gathering together.
Taken together, those facts make it particularly troubling to many scientists and animal welfare groups when elephants, often young ones, are separated from their families in the wild to be sold to zoos.