Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation takes protest to Chinese Embassy to stop inhumane export of wild baby elephants for captivity

108 baby elephants sold by Zimbabwe to zoos overseas since 2012

Humane Society International / United Kingdom

Baby elephantsOscar Nkala

LONDON—The Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation will be joined on Friday 24th May by international NGOs, as well as actor and conservationist Dan Richardson, in a silent protest outside the Chinese Embassy against the exploitative export of wild-caught baby elephants from Zimbabwe to foreign destinations, mainly zoos in China. Humane Society International, Animal Defenders International, Action for Elephants UK and the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting will stand in solidarity with protest organiser and ZEF founder and director Mrs Nomusa Dube to shine a spotlight on the abusive practice that sees elephants as young as two years old being stolen from their mothers for lucrative export to foreign zoos.

According to trade data of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Zimbabwe has exported 108 young elephants to zoos in China and the UAE since 2012. Humane Society International has vocally opposed this trade for a number of years. Heart-breaking footage released by HSI and others has shown 14 elephant calves being kicked and beaten during the capture process in 2017 and 35 young elephants in 2019 pacing their pens in Hwange National Park, showing signs of stress and demonstrating wide-eyed, ear-splayed defensive postures as they await export to foreign lands. In 2016, Zimbabwe exported 35 baby elephants to Chinese zoos. One of the elephants died during transit or after arrival. Photos of the few surviving baby elephants, standing alone in dark, barren cells, were shocking.

These captures have sparked outrage from other African countries. In February this year, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism & Wildlife, The Honourable Najib Balala remarked, “Trade in live elephants should only be for the purpose of enhancing the conservation of the species in its natural habitats (in-situ) as the only appropriate and acceptable destination.” The African Elephant Coalition, an alliance of 32 African countries, has also called for an end to the export of wild elephants to zoos and other captive facilities. And in March 2019 the People and Earth Solidarity Law Network, together with seven Zimbabwean NGOs, submitted a petition to the Zimbabwean Parliament calling for a ban on the export of young elephants and improvements to the welfare of wildlife in Zimbabwe.

Protest organiser, Nomusa Dube of the Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation said: “What China needs to understand is that not everything in Africa is for sale.”

Mrs Dube wrote an open letter to Zimbabwe’s President Mnangagwa, which reads: “Seeing the wildlife as something which can be uplifted and sold like a ripe fruit off a tree into a terrifying chasm. In the chasm lies an insatiable demand for all wildlife and her products. So huge is this demand that we could sell or kill every single living thing in Zimbabwe, it would be like one drop of water going into an ocean…Zimbabwe’s Elephants are the jewels in her crown, do not sell them.”

Claire Bass, Executive Director of Humane Society International/UK, who will speak at the event after the silent protest, said: “The capture of baby elephants from the wild for sale into a lifetime of suffering in captivity is heart breaking and shameful. Video footage shows that these young elephants are already displaying stress behaviour after being ripped away from their mothers and bonded family group, and are likely terrified. In the wild, calves remain closely bonded to their natal family groups; females never leave their families whilst males only leave their herd at 12 – 15 years of age. Such callous disregard for the physical and emotional wellbeing of these highly intelligent and socially complex animals is utterly inexcusable and casts a sordid light over both Zimbabwe and China. South Africa has banned the capture of elephants from the wild for captivity, and we urge Zimbabwe to follow suit by stopping these vile exports immediately.”

The protest takes place on Friday 24th May 1.30-3.30pm at the Chinese Embassy, 49-51 Portland Place, London. Media wishing to speak with Noma Dube or Claire Bass prior to the protest can do so by contacting Wendy Higgins at whiggins@hsi.org


Media contacts:

HSI/UK: Director of International Media Wendy Higgins, mobile +44 (0) 7989 972 423, whiggins@hsi.org

HSI/Africa: Media and Communications Outreach Manager Leozette Roode, mobile +2771 360 1004, lroode@hsi.org


  • In collaboration with the AEC, Humane Society International co-authored a report highlighting the challenges that the live trade in elephants poses to the CITES regulations.
  • In January 2018, Humane Society International/Africa and 33 partners, submitted a letter to Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, pleading for a halt to the horrific abuse and practice of capturing elephants from the wild for captivity.

Say NO to the capture and export of baby elephants from Zimbabwe to China


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