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May 24, 2010

Ill-Conceived Gift Would Mean Tragic Fate for Animals

Humane Society International

  • To take babies from their mothers would be senseless and cruel. © Serge Vero/iStockphoto

by Marcie Berry

Update: In early June 2010, it was reported that the deal to send animals to North Korea had been cancelled, although Zimbabwe was still considering proposals from other countries to purchase its wildlife.

Recent news that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has ordered the capture and shipment of a number of wild animals to North Korea has spread like wildfire. Many people are upset and concerned for these animals, and rightly so. Pairs of giraffes, zebras, baby elephants and others have been plucked from their natural habitat in Hwange National Park and are to endure the stress of a long trip where ultimately they will be locked-up in a zoo for the remainder of their lives.

Mugabe has been a long-time ally of North Korea and in the late 1980’s two rhinos were given as gifts to their leader at the time. The rhinos died only a few months after being relocated. Conservationists expect that the two baby elephants, too young to be separated from their mothers at only 18 months of age, are unlikely to survive this voyage. If they do survive the trip, they may not last long in captivity as experts have warned that juvenile elephants become particularly traumatized when removed from their families. Additionally, these elephants would have continued to suckle from their mother for the next two and a half years, but now without this important source of nutrition they are likely to suffer from severe developmental problems.

The elephants in Zimbabwe are currently listed on CITES Appendix II, which means that any trade in live animals must meet two specific criteria. First, the animals must be shipped in a way that minimizes risk of injury, damage to health, or cruel treatment. Second, the final destination for the animals must be appropriate and acceptable. It is obvious that the first criterion is not being met, and there is no clear evidence that the destination for these elephants has been properly inspected.

With the word spreading fast about this transaction, Zimbabwe should be concerned about its perception in the public eye. People care about the welfare of animals, and elephants in particular are beginning to be recognized worldwide as a species that does not belong in captivity.

Humane Society International, along with more than 50 other organizations, signed a letter [PDF] prepared by elephant expert Joyce Poole. The letter was sent to the Director General of Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

If you would like to take action, consider writing a letter to the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai. Please remember to be polite and professional.

Follow these steps:

1. Go into the website www.zimbabweprimeminister.org

2. Click on Contacts.

3. Send an email to the Prime Minister.