ZIMBABWE is selling sub-adult elephants for US$24 500 each amid indications that the export of the animals is set to continue, with government arguing the elephant population in the country’s national parks far exceeds their holding capacity, especially at the vast Hwange National Park.
Last week this paper reported the country is preparing to ship at least 170 baby elephants to China as it has emerged that seven Chinese veterinarian doctors are camped at Hwange National Park conditioning the animals for the rigours of a long-distance flight.
The government says the park is currently holding about 53 000 elephants whereas its holding capacity is between 20 000 and 30 000.
In June, Zimbabwe exported 24 elephants to China sparking an international outcry from animal rights activists and conservationists. The jumbos were taken to Chimelong Safari Park in Guangdong Province of China.
The Zimbabwe Independent has it on good authority that an additional 176 elephants are being prepared for shipment to the Asian country, although the government denies the reports.
Permanent secretary in the ministry of Environment, Water and Climate Prince Mupazviriho however says there is nothing wrong with animal exports. He claims animal rights activists and conservationists are only raising their voices because the elephants were exported to China.
China has a reputation of cruelty to animals as it subjects them to unnatural living conditions such as zoos.
“If they were not going to China, there wouldn’t have been such noise,” said Mupazviriho in an interview.
“Around the same time we exported the elephants to China (June) we exported 10 rhinos to Botswana in exactly the same way, but no one made a fuss about it.”
Mupazviriho defended the ongoing elephant exports saying the country had an excessively large population of jumbos. The elephants, he said, were causing extensive damage to the environment and threatening the existence of other animals, in addition to coming into conflict with humans.
“… Those animals are destructive. Not just destructive to the environment in terms of grazing, but they also destroy the vegetation which other animals also depend on,” he said.
“When you also look at an elephant, it drinks 1 000 litres of water per day; if you have 50 000 elephants, then how many litres of water do we need to give them, given the very dry areas they live in and the limited resources?”
He said while there was a need to look after elephants so that they are not hunted to extinction, there was also a need to ensure their population does not grow to a point where they will not thrive on available land.
To control the population, government had the choices of culling the elephants, encouraging hunts or exporting them, Mupazviriho said.
Selling the animals was a viable option which should be encouraged even by animal lovers, he insisted.
Approved hunts, where money could be ploughed back into conservation, was also an option, but Mupazviriho believes hunts would not contain the increasing number of elephants.
“One could cull, but should we shoot them to rot. We cannot do that because culling on its own is not sustainable.”
“… Now, if I am giving them to someone to look after them, not in a zoo, but keeping them alive, is one not being very much a conservationist by making sure that you are keeping these animals alive?” he asked.
Mupazviriho said it would be irresponsible to keep elephants beyond the holding capacity of parks as the animals will venture into areas where humans live to find space, thereby increasing human-animal conflict.