When news broke that 80 elephant calves had been rounded up by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to be sold to zoos, the world erupted in outrage.
The African elephant is a highly endangered species and it has been predicted that if humans continue to poach and capture these animals, their wild populations could be extinct within the next 20 years. And yet, the Zimbabwe government not only allowed this capture to take place, but in fact encouraged it. Why? Well, in the words of President Mugabe, because the country’s wildlife, ”needs to start paying dividends.”
According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Zimbabwe population is not in direct threat of extinction, so as long as Zimbabwe’s government can find an “acceptable” home for the elephants, they are free to do so. (Yes, we realize how ridiculous this sounds.)
There has been much speculation over what the future will hold for these babies, but life in Chinese zoos seems to be the most likely ending.
After their initial capture, the calves were transported to a Hwange National Park holding facility. New photos, courtesy of Elephants DC, show the sad state to which these young elephants have been reduced. It is estimated that they are all four years old, at most, and the stress and pain associated with being torn from their mothers and families is taking a toll on both their physical and mental well-being.
Elephant behavioral expert Joyce Poole, examined the photos taken and expressed concern that the elephants all showed signs of stress and alarm.
Of this photo, Poole tells National Geographic, “[the elephant] is apprehensive about what it sees, hears, smells on the other side of the bars.”
According to Poole, the “pinched” look of this elephant’s face is not necessarily indicative of malnourishment, but seems to only occur in baby elephants who have lost their mothers.
Even elephants in the wild who have been orphaned can be seen with this pinched look. It seems as if these babies wear their sorrow right on their faces.
Wendie Wendt, former executive director of the Big Life Foundation, tells National Geographic, “It’s clear that these elephants are not where they belong. They should be with their families out in the wild. They shouldn’t be in this horrific environment waiting to be shipped out to God knows what fate. It’s unconscionable.”
If these elephants appear stressed and alarmed in this holding facility, then we can only imagine the future distress they will experience in zoos. There is no questioning that this is not the sort of life that any animal deserves.
While the fate of these baby elephants may be out of our hands, we can all play a role to ensure that other animals elsewhere are no subjected to this form of cruelty by boycotting zoos and other facilities that hold wild animals for entertainment. These animals can only be truly free when we stop funding their captivity.