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Elephants have roamed the savannahs of Africa for millions of years. They descend from a long line of ancient land mammals, making today’s elephants the remnants of a truly remarkable evolutionary radiation.

Elephant populations comprise distinct components: Cow-calf herds are usually made up of an older matriarch, her daughters and their calves. Young bulls form bachelor groups while older bulls are often seen in solitary existence.

These gentle giants are widely held to display more human-like traits than any other large mammal, and the elephant has long been acknowledged for its intelligence, strong family bonds, and complex levels of consciousness and social cohesion.

Cohesion between families and extended families or clans is the very foundation of elephant life.



Yet even though this phenomenal intelligence and social complexity is well understood, few species are as persecuted and exploited as the elephant.

Removing a young elephant from its family group is appallingly traumatic for the calf, and is as traumatic for their family groups impacting greatly on their social set up. Scientific recognition of this fact greatly informed the argument in halting elephant culling.

However the capture and removal of live young elephants from family groups persists.

This is fuelled by economic greed and a bogus, conservation rhetoric claiming over-populations amidst the lack of any scientific evidence. These dubious arguments have been the major defence by the Zimbabwe government in justifying their decision for the capture late last year of an unnamed number of elephant calves, and the export earlier this week of 24 elephant calves to a zoo in China.

There can be fewer things more distressing than removing a youngster from its family group; the resulting stress alone often leads to the death of these young elephants before they even reach their destination. For those that do survive, that trauma remains for a life time – often manifesting in mal-adjustment and anti-social behavior.

In the case of the Zimbabwe elephants, the regulatory body governing the trade in wildlife, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), made it possible for this trade of elephants to China to be legal, showing an absolute lack of any welfare and ethical considerations. What’s more, no legislation to protect animals governs facilities in China.

Mechanisms which base their existence on making regulations to conserve species yet ignore the welfare of the individual animal involved need to be questioned by society together with those tasked with making them.

Lead image source: Mariamichelle/Creative Commons

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0 comments on “How Tearing Elephant Calves From Their Mothers for Captivity Impacts the Wild Herd”

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Jane High
2 Years Ago

May I correct the perception that CITES allowed the sale of these elephants because it was done in accordance with their regulations. Zimbabwe\'s elephants are listed under APPENDIX II therefore subject to Article IV. Article IV 2(b) clearly states that existing national law pertaining to the protection of fauna (and Flora) may be broken is a VALID export permit is to be issued.
Our authorities failed to mention that they had contravened our existing National Law known as SI 19:09 The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Section 12(i) which gives right of entry to the Welfare Inspectors. Our inspectors were refused access to these elephants despite going physically to National Parks HQ, with appointments and waiting for hours. They also wrote letters to the DG of Parks urging that they be given access to the elephants.
The CITES annotation agreed at Resolution Conference11.20 states that the term "APPROPRIATE AND ACCEPTABLE DESTINATIONS" is yet to be fully defined. It is our contention that this cannot BE defined without reference to the National Laws pertaining to animal welfare of both the exporting and the importing countries. In our case that law is Statutory Instrument 19:09. This means that engaging of Welfare Inspectors is not a choice...it is law.

Jane High
18 Jul 2015

Correction to line 4 PARA 1 - should read : Man NOT be broken IF a valid Export permit is to be issued.

2 Years Ago

That is one of the reasons I also detest circuses!

Some points on circuses: Animals are NOT here for our entertainment. These animals are usually stolen as babies from their mothers in the wild and then brought to the U.S. and worldwide to perform ridiculous tricks. Elephants, for instance, are trained by being beaten with bull hooks (a metal apparatus resembling a fireplace poker with a hook on the end) and clubs as well as being whipped. Dancing bears only appear to dance because they have the bottoms of their feet burned so they shift their weight from foot to foot. Much of the cruelty goes on behind the scenes and spectators to the circus do not see it. Far too often, they are kept from seeing a veterinarian, even when they are having physical maladies.

Besides all of the cruelty that is attached with animal shows, circus-goers are oftentimes given the opportunity to have contact with animals which is absolutely FOOLISH! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elephants, for instance, can carry TUBERCULOSIS and transmit it to the public, even without direct contact. Also, as we have seen numerous times before, animals that have been grossly maltreated end up going berserk and harming and/or killing people. Please do NOT patronize circuses with animals like this one. There are plenty of circuses without animals that are absolutely terrific -- I have seen them.


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