The European Union (EU) intends to vote in favor of a barbaric trade- export of wild baby elephants from Africa to zoos worldwide. Officials said they will let the practice to continue, in so doing overturning a recent decision by 46 other countries at an International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting of the United Nations Convention over the weekend.
Conservationists have condemned the 28-nation bloc’s stance as “shocking and shameful”, accusing the Union of “condemning young elephants to a life of hell”. According to animal-welfare groups, the creatures, who survive long journeys to captivity, typically in China, have been filmed being kicked and beaten, displaying clear signs of stress.
Last week at the world’s biggest wildlife conference, governments together with African elephant-range states, supported an end to the practice of capturing the young animals, mostly in Zimbabwe, for zoos and circuses. Before the vote at this committee, EU representatives had opposed the proposed ban and told delegates they would oppose it. A technical malfunction prevented the bloc from voting then, but next week they are widely expected to attempt overturning the ban in full session.
The EU vote represents 28 countries including the UK and carries great weight in shaping the rules of Cites, the world’s watchdog for wildlife trade. They are yet to respond when questioned about their opinion by The Independent. There may be some pressure from the continent’s zoos that want to continue to importing elephants to attract visitors.
Between 1990 and 2015, no less than 1,774 wild African elephants were reported to have been exported for captive use according to wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation. Stealth operations carried out by teams of men in helicopters to capture baby elephants in the bush who chase the youngsters, forcibly separating them from their mothers, before tranquilizing them for capture. Since 2012, China has imported over 100 elephants from Zimbabwe to sell them to zoos and circuses for about $90,000 (£73,600) each.
According to the Born Free Foundation, “Video footage suggests that most were dependent calves aged between two and four, and a number have since been filmed displaying stress-induced behaviours”.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the African Elephant Coalition nations also opposes this cruel trade. Without this ban, African elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana may still be sent to destinations labeled by Cites rules as “appropriate and acceptable”.
Born Free alleges that elephant families would continue to be ripped apart, and baby elephants “condemned to a lifetime of suffering in captivity” by the EU’s “shocking and shameful” decision.
Chief executive Howard Jones said: “We face a knife-edge decision on the future security of African elephants and the rights of elephant families not to be hunted, or mothers killed while their babies are kidnapped for live trade to captivity in China, Russia and any other country prepared to pay. It can’t be right, it isn’t right, now or ever, and the people of Europe must speak out against this horror and pull their leaders back from the edge.”
Under such a ban, trading elephants would be limited to “conservation programs or secure areas in the wild within the species’ natural range”, apart from temporary transfers in emergencies. Humane Society International/Africa claims that the loss of captured individuals caused psychological trauma for both the captured animal and its family.
A letter to EU officials from six wildlife organizations states that “Elephants are social and emotional creatures who form strong family bonds and suffer tremendously in captivity. Captured elephants can face horrific abuse during the capture process. Footage of wild-caught baby elephants awaiting export from Zimbabwe shows calves being beaten and kicked during capture. Some elephants have died during transit or shortly after arrival.”
Nevertheless, for the first-time giraffes have been given protection from unregulated trade in a vote designated as a “big win”. Undergoing a “silent extinction”, giraffe numbers have plummeted by nearly 40 % over the last 30 years because of illegal hunting, trade in their parts and habitat loss.