Monitored by hundreds of police officers assisted by drones, the massive animals reached Kunming in southern Yunnan province earlier this week after traveling some 300 miles from their native nature reserve, state-owned media reported.
Adam Chang was hired to deliver corn and pineapples to the elephants, which on average stand 11 feet tall and weigh 11,000 lbs.
He said what he saw was amazing.
“I saw them picking apart the corn with their trunks,” he told NBC News over the messaging and social media app WeChat.
“They are just so much more lively than those I saw in the zoo. It almost felt as if they had a holy aura around them,” he said.
While news of their migration has spread across China and gone viral online, with many expressing wonder and fascination, experts warned that this rare journey could indicate the inevitable and damaging consequences of human encroachment on the elephants’ natural habitat.
The herd reached Kunming on June 2, despite efforts from police to lure them back home. The animals took their time crossing what would have been busy thoroughfares, eating and stumbling into irrigation ditches before going to sleep in woods nearby.
After trending on social media in late May, many netizens were awestruck, while some complained about the destruction left in their wake.
Jason Cao, owner of a Yunnan mining company contracted by the government to deliver their feed, said he didn’t think the damage they caused was serious.
“Elephants are holy animals that can bring fortune and peace in Chinese culture, so we are very happy the elephants came,” he said.
Both Chang and Cao declined to offer their given first names because they had not been given permission to speak to the media by local officials and feared retribution. Instead they asked to be identified with their “American” names.
The herd first came to the attention of outsiders in March 2020 when they left their home in the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve in southwest Yunnan at the border with Myanmar and Laos. A calf was born in November and two elephants split off from the rest in April 2021, according to the state news agency Xinhua.
Officials and experts say they don’t know why the herd is migrating.
According to Tammie Matson, zoologist and research fellow at the University of Rwanda and director of Matson and Ridley Safaris, elephants can travel long distances if there isn’t enough habitat to meet their needs.
“Some may be driven to move away to get access to these resources to avoid competition,” she said.
Xinhua has reported that the Asian elephant population in Yunnan has ballooned from 180 in the 1980s to 300 in 2021. So it is possible that as numbers grew, a subgroup began searching for new habitat, got lost and just kept traveling, according to Nilanga Jayasinghe, manager of the wildlife conservation team at WWF, an international nongovernmental organization that specializes in wildlife preservation.
Netizens have plenty of theories as to why the elephants are migrating, blaming global warming and deforestation.
Asian elephants inhabit forests and grassland, so deforestation rates in Xishuangbanna, which reached an annual average of 4.1 square miles in 2010, may have contributed to the herd’s migration.
Still, long-distance treks are not unknown for the animals, according to Raman Sukumar, professor of ecology at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, India, with similar migrations having happened in India and Sri Lanka.
These trips can have a negative impact on a herd’s health, he warned.
“I would expect that the stress levels in the elephants would start going up because the elephants are in a totally different kind of terrain,” he said. “It is very densely populated … It’s not so easy for them to navigate through a city.”
For Hannah Mumby, assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biological Sciences, it is important to address the root cause of their departure, otherwise this behavior could be repeated.
The China Central Television News Agency has captured signs of a second herd of elephants attempting to migrate across a river in Xishuangbanna.
In the meantime, those who have seen the elephants say the experience is more than memorable.
“Before this encounter I just felt curious about animals, now I think I would volunteer in animal rights groups to preserve those giant creatures,” Chang said.
Authorities in the southern African country estimate that the number of its mammoth mammals currently stands at slightly more than 100,000 – up from 84,000 in 2014, when the last census was conducted – for a carrying capacity of about 45,000.https://www.dianomi.com/smartads.epl?id=3533
The surplus has prompted the government in recent weeks to mull the mass killing of elephants – something the country last did in 1988 – as a population-control option in order to protect other wildlife, as well as the country’s vegetation.
“We are overpopulated when it comes to elephants in this country,” Tinashe Farawo, spokesman of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks) told Al Jazeera.
Authorities maintain the growing elephant population poses a risk to other animals by causing habitat destruction, and has also led to an increase in the instances of dangerous human-wildlife interaction, with dozens of deaths reported in recent years.
“We have vultures that breed in trees. The vultures are no longer breeding in Hwange (National Park); they have moved to other places because elephants have the habit of knocking down trees,” Farawo said.
He noted that the plan is still in its “formative stages” and a final decision has yet to be made, but stressed that culling is permitted by Zimbabwe laws.
But the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), an environmental and human rights watchdog in Zimbabwe documenting poaching, opposed the plan.
“Culling will eventually lead to extinction of these elephants,” spokesperson Simiso Mlevu told Al Jazeera.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “Very soon we will be forced to travel to other countries just to see an elephant.”
Earlier this year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the African forest elephant as “critically endangered” and the African savanna elephant as “endangered”, citing a surge in poaching and loss of habitat for the declining numbers.
According to the Swiss-based group’s latest assessments, the number of African forest elephants dropped by more than 86 percent over a period of 31 years. Meanwhile, the population of African savanna elephants fell by at least 60 percent over the past half a century.
Zimbabwe has the continent’s second-largest elephant population after Botswana, which boasts about a third of Africa’s 415,000 remaining elephants.
Besides culling, another option considered by Zimbabwean authorities is to move elephants from areas with a high population. But both are hampered by lack of funds, Farawo said.
“It’s an expensive process and right now we have no money,” he added. “In 2018, we moved 100 elephants and the exercise cost us $400,000.”
Farawo said ZimParks, a government body, requires at least $25m annually for its operations. But the body has not received any funding from Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government since 2001.
Farawo said his organisation needed revenue to conserve elephants but its finances took a big hit in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic severely affected the country’s tourism industry.
In late April, Zimbabwe said it was planning to sell hunting licenses to kill 500 elephants to generate revenue. Trophy hunters are expected to pay between $10,000 and $70,000 depending on elephant size.
The 500-elephant hunting quota, which is separate from the culling plan, is allowed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), according to Farawo, who said that “elephants must pay for their upkeep”.
“The elephants also have to take care of themselves, so we must be allowed to trade in order for that to happen,” Farawo said.
“[This] means that money must be generated, revenue coming off the elephants. Right now, tourism is dead, so people aren’t coming to see the elephants.”
But Mlevu, of CNRG, said that culling would affect tourism – a position echoed by John Robertson, a prominent Zimbabwean economist.
“It inflicts serious damage on wildlife,” Robertson told Al Jazeera. “Losing wildlife also reduces the prospects of tourism, which the country heavily relies on.”
Audrey Delsink, wildlife director of Humane Society International/Africa, said killing elephants has “a traumatic effect on the remaining population”. She said it is for that reason that authorities in South Africa are using contraception as a population-control option.
Noting that 76 percent of elephant populations in Africa cross borders, Delsink told Al Jazeera: “Management actions taken at an incorrect scale can have massive consequences and ripple effects that extend far beyond the targeted zone, area or population.
“Therefore, Zimbabwean management choices could have devastating consequences for transient elephants. The situation in Zimbabwe appears to be not so much about elephant numbers per se, but rather about funding the management authority – the elephants are simply a means to this end.”
The governments of Botswana and Angola have set up a joint initiative to promote the migration of elephants to Angola. This solution could save Botswana’s elephants, which are at the root of tensions between the authorities and farmers.
Botswana has long been regarded as Africa’s elephant sanctuary and is now seeking to reduce its pachyderm population. The animals, whose range is gradually shrinking, are also being hunted by farmers, who are accused of destroying plantations. The problem is such that the elephant issue is now at the heart of election campaigns, with politicians no longer hesitating to propose the culling of pachyderms outright.
But the solution may lie elsewhere, including the migration of these animals to other wilderness areas. The Botswana authorities are seriously considering this option. In fact, they have launched an initiative with the Angolan government to create crossings to allow elephants to move from northern Botswana to southern Angola. This is in fact an ancient migration route that elephants used to use to escape the harsh dry seasons of northern Botswana and spend this time in the lush vegetation of south-eastern Angola.
Demining the migratory corridor
But Angola’s civil war between 1991 and 2002 reduced the movement of pachyderms and other wildlife, forcing them to confine themselves to Botswana and other neighbouring countries. According to the Angolan authorities, before the civil war Angola had a population of 100,000 elephants. Today, the country has only 10,000. Although calm has since returned to the Angolan reserves, elephants are still reluctant to return to Angola and their migration corridor is still littered with mines laid during the civil war.
This is why the Angolan and Botswana authorities are now working to clear the pachyderm migration corridor of mines. In addition, the Angolan government has already allocated 60 million dollars for mine clearance in the south of the country. But more funds will be needed to facilitate the migration of the largest land mammal.
Financing the development of migration corridors
According to the authorities in both countries, additional funds are needed to remove obstacles to elephant movement, including the dismantling of cattle fences, the protection of migration corridors and the education of local communities. “Angola needs to prepare for the planned migration and restocking of elephants and other wildlife in the country,” says Tamar Ron, an ecologist and biodiversity consultant with the Angolan government.
“Southern Angola provides prime habitat for elephants and, if conditions are safe for elephants, they will return to Angola in large numbers. It is natural for elephants to leave areas with high elephant numbers and seek out areas with fewer elephants for safe food and water,” says Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders, an organisation that works on elephant research.
A deconfinement solution for elephants
The migratory solution advocated by the Angolan and Botswana governments should deconflict the 135,000 elephants of Botswana, the vast majority of which live in an area of 520,000 km2, in the Kavango-Zambezi Transboundary Conservation Area (Kaza). It is located in a five-border region in Southern Africa. Kaza includes most of the Upper Zambezi River Basin and the Okavango Basin and Delta. The area includes the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, the south eastern tip of Angola, southwestern Zambia, the northern Botswana wilderness and western Zimbabwe.
For over forty years, the Commerford Zoo has exploited Minnie and forced her to perform for their financial gain. Over the past two years, both of Minnie’s elephant companions died. She is now held alone, without the psychologically necessary companionship of other elephants, at the Commerford Zoo’s small farm in Goshen, CT.
TAKE ACTION NOW
Please complete this action alert asking the US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to order that the USDA conduct an emergency inspection of the Commerford Zoo to ensure that Minnie is safe and properly cared for.
?Take future action with a single click. Log in or Sign up for FastActionContact InformationPrefixFirst NameLast NameEmailRemember me so that I can use FastAction next time.Urgent concerns about an elephant at a Connecticut roadside zoo Dear Secretary Vilsack, I am writing to express serious concerns about the welfare of Minnie, an Asian elephant owned by the Commerford Zoo in Goshen, CT, who has not been seen in public for over a year. Personalize your messageThank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter. Sincerely, [Your information here]
“Ever since we arrived on this planet as a species, we’ve cut them down, dug them up, burnt them and poisoned them. Today we are doing so on a greater scale than ever.” – Sir David Attenborough
I start my article with this quote not only out of respect to its author, climate change activist David Attenborough, but due to its succinct message.
This quote is so brilliant because it can be interpreted in so many ways. This quote encapsulates how we, as the human species, have affected every element of the earth’s circle of life through our insensitive desire to be at the top of the food chain.
The “them” can apply to anything: fossil fuels, wildlife, the ocean and, most importantly, the animals that we live side by side with.
In my eyes, I see this quote as a message to the world and its leaders on why trophy hunting (the act of killing a wild animal for sport) should not remain legal any longer.
Most people struggle to understand why hunters want to take life from such beautiful animals.
The statistics from a 2016 report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that 1.7 million hunting trophies were traded between nations between 2004 and 2014, of which 200,000 were endangered.”
Even though this data was collected a few years ago, it still highlights the ever increasing number of trophies being exported and traded, meaning more and more animals are being killed. Which I believe needs to stop.
There is an ongoing biodiversity crisis on our planet. Biodiversity refers to the variety of animals and life on earth and sadly this is ever decreasing. A statistic from CareOurEarthsays that the current rate of global extinction is 100 times higher than the average over the last million years.
Serious action needs to take place in order to prevent any more of the Earth’s biodiversity from being lost- and this must start with change. Trophy hunting laws might be a good place to start.
Walter Palmer’s killing of Cecil made international news in 2015. It is estimated that hunting has led to the lion species’ gene pool shrinking by 15 percent in the space of 100 years.
This lion, Cecil, lived in Hwange National Park in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. On the 2nd July 2015, he was killed by American trophy hunter Walter Palmer. Cecil was allegedly lured out of his enclosure then shot with a bow and arrow and left there in extreme pain. Palmer then came back the next day to shoot the lion. On discovery that Palmer had a permit, making the murder legal, controversy arose. A petition was created to change laws on big game hunts in Zimbabwe.
There have been numerous cases where hunters have told journalists and news broadcasters that there is a conservation side to trophy hunting. Some argue that the land allocated for trophy hunting provides protection to species’ habitats and can benefit local communities with both employment and wildlife (when done correctly). Canned hunting in particular means the animals are bred and the species are saved from otherwise definite extinction in the wild.
And yet the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation found that that only 3% of hunting revenue went to causes such as helping communities. This tells us that there is only a minor contribution to communities and they are able to cope with or without the revenue brought in, even before any ethical considerations.
These so called acts of conservation make the wildlife into an economical asset, which does not solve the problem- rather, it endangers species by giving them an economic value that humans might seek out. The treatment of species which are not yet endangered as assets to be collected or traded will surely lead them to the same fate as those already under threat.
Fortunately, there are wildlife conservation examples to be seen, mainly in Africa, which help preserve suffering species from game hunting. An example is The Makalali Game Reserve ,which is one of South Africa’s private reserves. Their aim is to counteract illegal hunting and wildlife trade by game hunters preying on critically endangered animals. The conservation area gives shelter to the animals known as ‘The Big 5’: lions, elephants, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos.
Elephants are in the top five most sought after animals for trophy hunters.
These animals are the most likely to be hunted due to their distinctive features; whether that is tusks from an elephant or a fur coat from a leopard- these are financial opportunities to hunters, who will either illegally or legally sell these items as commodities, or keep them for their own display.
The ban of trophies being imported to the UK through new laws has seen improvement, and is expected to dis-incentivise hunters who can no longer bring their trophies home. This is a glint of hope but there is a lot that still needs to be done.
I end this article with yet another quote by Sir David for the younger generation to ponder on.
“Cherish the natural world, because you are a part of it and you depend on it.”
“There is no evidence of illegal activity thus far as elephant tusks were found intact,” the Environment Ministry said on Facebook on Friday. When elephants are poached, their tusks are removed and the ivory sold illegally.
Botswana’s 135,000 elephants, the most in any one nation, have become a political issue because farmers say they destroy their crops and occasionally trample people. Yet the animals are key to the country’s tourism industry, which was worth some $2 billion a year before the coronavirus pandemic.
(Updates with tension over elephants in final paragraph)
After freeing the “world’s loneliest elephant” from a life of misery in a Pakistani zoo, the singer Cher has turned her attention to the plight of another animal: a gorilla who has spent the last three decades at the top of a Bangkok shopping mall.
Bua Noi was brought to Thailand in 1988, and has spent almost all her life in an enclosure at Pata zoo, a private zoo that has long been criticised by animal welfare campaigners.
Cher has joined those calling for the gorilla’s release, and has written to Thailand’s environment minister, Varawut Silpa-archa, to express “deep concern” over Bua Noi’s living conditions, and those of other primates.
Campaigners say the animals have little stimulation and are confined in unnatural enclosures at the zoo, which is on the top floors of a department store. Bua Noi’s mate died more than a decade ago, according to the Bangkok Post.
Free the Wild, a charity co-founded by Cher, has offered to fund the transfer of the gorilla to a sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo that would be “a home of peace and dignity where she could live out her life in a natural environment and companionship with other species”.
Other animals at the zoo, including orangutans, bonobo and a gibbon, had been offered a home with the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, Cher said in her letter to Varawut.Advertisement
Writing on Twitter, she called upon the “good people of Bangkok” to help her “stop the torturing of innocent animals”. “It Is a Sin. Please Help Me Bring Peace to these Animals. &Free Them From Pata Zoo … Shopping Mall,” she said.
The owner of the zoo, Kanit Sermsirimongkol, could not be reached for comment on Friday but has previously rejected claims that the animals are poorly treated.
Last week, Cher travelled to a sanctuary in Cambodia after a successful campaign to relocate Kaavan, described as the “world’s loneliest elephant”, from a zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan. Animal rights groups had expressed alarm at the care and conditions at the zoo.
Kaavan had been found to be severely dehydrated, while his keepers were accused last year of stealing his food. Wild boars had also been found to be breaking into his enclosure and stealing his bread and fruit. Kaavan had no companions, despite elephants being sociable animals.
He is now living in a wildlife sanctuary in Oddar Meanchey province, north-west Cambodia, where he will live with about 600 other elephants.
The EU’s new Green Deal strategy offers ‘guidance’ to African countries but does nothing to stop Europe’s own ivory market, Roseiw Awori writes
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As part of its plans to be the first net zero emissions, zero pollution continent by 2050, the EU published its Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, personally championed by First Executive Vice-President Timmermans, on 20th May.
It proposes among other issues “… a further tightening of the rules on EU ivory trade” while nonetheless maintaining a thriving ivory market itself.
“A further tightening of the rules …” is hardly progress.
Under the Juncker Commission, which left office on 30th November 2019, significant strides were being made to close the loopholes in the EU’s ivory trade.
The Von der Leyen “Green Deal” Commission has, however, demonstrated scant political will to maintain – let alone increase – that momentum. It is this type of double standard that we can no longer stand for.
“We are tired of these lectures that constantly come from the North, telling us how to manage our spaces while they ignore the implications of their actions. Frankly, the EU has failed to read the mood across the world,” says Dr Winnie Kiiru, Senior Technical Advisor for the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI), an organisation comprising of 21 African countries working to secure the protection of African elephants.
As an elephant biologist for the past 20 years, Kiiru has fought for the ban of ivory across the world and is not impressed by the EU’s double standards. “Countries that had thriving markets such as China and the US have gone ahead to ban ivory trade – it seems very odd that the EU won’t follow suit.”
Beginning around 2007, a wave of poaching for ivory devastated populations of savanna and forest elephants across Africa. The total numbers of savanna elephants decreased by 30% between 2007 and 2015, while forest elephants were hit even harder.
In some countries, elephant populations declined by over 50% in under 10 years. If current poaching levels continue, elephants may be extinct in the wild within the decade – and this will be thanks in no small measure to the EU’s ivory market, among the largest in the world.
Poaching of African elephants continues unabated. The fight for countries to shut down the international ivory trade has borne some fruit with key nations such as the USA, UK and China responding to global pressure and closing their domestic ivory markets.
This action has been accompanied by a decrease in poaching within some parts of Africa, primarily in East Africa. However, in other regions, notably West, Central and Southern Africa, the poaching trend has not declined.
If anything, poaching levels are increasing in new hotspots, as major global ivory markets have remained open, notably those of Japan and the European Union.
This makes the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, as part of the highly ambitious Green Deal suite of policy initiatives all the more extraordinary.
Aiming to provide ‘guidance’ to African countries on steps to take in order to maintain and improve our biodiversity, it is supremely ironic that the EU’s ivory market is effectively a key contributor of the destruction of Africa’s natural heritage.
Laundering ‘legal’ ivory into the illegal market. It is all the more surprising to note this somewhat misguided act of charity has no roots within the EU.
The European Commission continues to maintain that the EU’s ivory market deals only with old ivory stocks and has no influence on current poaching levels.
Yet, recent studies have shown that ivory pieces can be aged and made to seem older than they actually are. Limiting the trade to small ivory pieces is also no solution, as carving operations have now been established in elephant range states.
This ongoing consumption of ivory puts the safety of the African elephants at great risk because, by giving ivory a value it prolongs demand, which maintains the push for supply.
Until the EU shuts down its domestic market, ivory will continue to be laundered into European markets under the guise of being ‘old or small stock’.
“The EU needs to appreciate the role of any African market in increasing the cost of law enforcement in African countries and destroying livelihoods. Furthermore, their strategy will be impossible to realize in Africa until they shut down their ivory markets,” Kiiru maintains.
Critically, ivory has no value within Africa; it is only countries outside that continue to clamour for it and by so doing fuel poaching across the continent.
And so, however good the intentions were in writing the EU Biodiversity Strategy, I am reminded of a song my mother would sing: “Sweep your yard before you come and sweep mine”. This is precisely what the EU needs to do.
The time for decisive action is now. Overall, the importance of healthy elephant populations is to increase and help support our African biodiversity, and they are part of our cultural heritage.
We cannot afford to lose them for the sake of demand by foreigners in Europe and elsewhere for trinkets.
Again it remains clear, the EU needs to re-examine its so-called ‘role’ in promoting global biodiversity; here in Africa, what it does in reality is continue to endanger African elephants.
Rosie Awori is the director of the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network
Zimbabwe loaded 32 baby elephants onto a China-bound plane in October 2019. It had sold off the young animals, who it had separated from their wild families a year earlier, to an unnatural and torturous life in zoos. Zimbabwe authorities went ahead with the baby elephants’ export in the face of legal action. It also did so just before the global wildlife watchdog, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), implemented a landmark rule change that would have made the export impossible.
Zimbabwe, however, isn’t guaranteed to get off scot-free with its much criticised move. A recent CITES report accuses the country of not only contravening the “will” of CITES members, but the “good faith” and “spirit” of the Convention overall. It also asserts that, regardless of the landmark rule change that was about to come into force, Zimbabwe contravened prior provisions of CITES.
The report’s authors call on CITES’ Animals Committee to take “appropriate steps” after considering its findings. Such a step would be removing the elephants from the distressing situation they now find themselves in, and giving them the chance to live out the rest of their lives in relative comfort.
Zimbabwe and a number of other nations that African elephants call home have been easily able to sell them on to non-African countries for display in zoos until very recently. But parties to CITES – which are nation states – voted to change the rules at the 2019 conference. The definition of what constitutes an ‘appropriate and acceptable destination’ for export of elephants was limited to “in situ” conservation programmes. Simply put, the change means that African elephants should stay in Africa.
The rule change came into force on 26 November 2019, 90 days after the vote. This grace period between parties approving resolutions and them coming into force is to allow countries time to adjust their national laws and policies to fit the incoming CITES’ requirements.
But Zimbabwe used the time to export the young elephants it had captured in 2018 to China. At the time, elephant biologist and wildlife director at Humane Society International/Africa, Audrey Delsink, said:
We are left feeling outraged and heartbroken at this news today that the Zimbabwe authorities have shipped these poor baby elephants out of the country. Zimbabwe is showing total disregard for the spirit of the CITES ruling as well as ignoring local and global criticism. Condemning these elephants to a life of captivity in Chinese zoos is a tragedy.
Now two parties to CITES, Burkina Faso and Niger, have submitted a report to the authority’s Animals Committee. The report looks at exports of live elephants from African nations since 2010 in the context of CITES’ various rules, such as countries having to find ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ for them.
Zimbabwe has outstrippped all others in sheer numbers of exports. The report found it has exported 144 young elephants, mostly to China, since 2010. Namibia came second, with 24 elephants. The report spotlights Zimbabwe’s 2019 export in great detail. The report states that, at the time of writing in May, the elephants were in Longemont Animal Park close to Hangzhou. It continues:
Undercover video footage shows the elephants separated from each other in barren, indoor cells. Many appear to be very young (2-3 years). Recent photographic evidence from China indicates that the elephants have undergone inhumane training by mahouts, presumably to prepare them for entertainment use. There are unconfirmed reports that some of the elephants are going to Yongyuan Biotech Company. The reason remains unknown.
Against the rules, by any measure
The report further assesses whether the export complied with CITES provisions. It notes that Zimbabwe can only export an elephant to ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ that are “suitably equipped to house and care for it”, due to a resolution that came into force in 2000. Parties have added further provisions over time. As a result, the scientific authorities for both the importing and exporting country also have to be “satisfied” that the export ‘promotes in situ conservation’, i.e. conservation in the place the elephant comes from. Furthermore, the 2019 landmark rule change, as already mentioned, limits what constitutes an ‘appropriate and acceptable destination’ to those that are ‘in situ’.
Burkina Faso and Niger argue, however, that, by any measure, Zimbabwe’s hurried export of the young elephants didn’t abide by CITES’ provisions. The report says:
there is no publicly available evidence suggesting that the safari park in Shanghai which received the 32 young elephants from Zimbabwe in October 2019 –or any of the likely further destinations –can be considered as “suitably equipped to house and care for” live elephants, and thus meet the recommendations in the non-binding guidance, or that this particular import would promote in situ conservation. …
By any reasonable metric, the conditions of the transfer and housing are demonstrably inhumane.
Highlighting the 2019 rule change and the fact that, as part of that change, parties explicitly recognised elephants are “highly social animals” and removing them from their social groups has “detrimental effects” on their “physical and social well-being”, the report said the export:
not only contravened the will of the CITES Parties, it undermined the good faith and the spirit of the Convention.
Mighty and toothless
In short, the CITES report by two of its member countries is scathing about Zimbabwe’s actions. It asserts that, no matter how you look at it, or what resolution you test it by, the country’s choice to fly out the young elephants was flawed.
The parties recommend that the Animals Committee considers the report’s findings on the Zimbabwe 2019 export, in relation to the ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ condition, and takes “appropriate steps”. The report doesn’t clarify what those steps should be.
CITES essentially plays god as an authority. It’s immensely powerful, deciding the fate of countless earthly beings, by controlling the trade in them – alive and dead. But it’s fairly ineffective when it comes to cracking down on wildlife trade offenders. The illegal trade in wildlife, for example, is booming (as is the legal trade). And what action CITES is empowered to take against Zimbabwe, and indeed China, for their apparent transgressions is unclear. South African journalist Adam Cruise told The Canary:
The appropriate steps would be haul Zimbabwe over the coals but just how CITES does that is the question. They are pretty toothless in that regard as they cannot really ‘do’ anything after the fact but simply an acknowledgement that Zimbabwe and by extension CITES were wrong and this sort of export will never happen again may be enough. Sadly, the elephants cant go back in the wild, that’s for sure.
Amid a global pandemic likely to have been caused by the wildlife trade, and a biodiversity crisis, the global wildlife watchdog increasingly appears unfit for purpose. A functional authority would reverse this trade and force the return of these young elephants to Africa, for rehabilitation and care in a wildlife sanctuary. If CITES is unable, or unwilling, to do that then really, what is the point of it?
In mid-December, Aaron Raby shot and killed an elephant. Hours later, he had a piece of it for dinner, with a side of sliced tomato and avocado.
A self-described “blue-collar” Los Angeles crane operator, Raby paid more than $30,000 for the once-in-a-lifetime experience — traveling more than 10,000 miles to South Africa to shoot and kill the tusked pachyderm. He then paid roughly $10,000 to have its head preserved as a souvenir of his adventure.
Yet Raby may never receive his trophy — which is still in South Africa being prepared by a taxidermist — if California enacts new legislation, Senate Bill 1175.
The legislation, which has passed the state Senate and is expected to pass the Assembly on Tuesday, would prohibit the importation and possession of animal parts from a list of endangered and threatened African species, including elephants, lions and rhinos.
“It’s time to wake up and realize that we’re in the middle of a mass extinction event,” said Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park), who wrote and shepherded the bill through the Senate.
Similar legislation passed both the Assembly and Senate two years ago but was ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who called the trophy ban “unenforceable.” Stern said circumstances have since changed, and is confident the current governor, Gavin Newsom, will sign this year’s bill.
For Raby, the consequences of his latest kill are just starting to unfold. After the hunt, he posted images of his trophy on Facebook, YouTube and AfricaHunting.com, a website for hunters.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights activist organization, independently obtained video of the elephant shooting, which it released Monday and plans to use in a late-session campaign to ensure passage of Stern’s legislation.
Raby said he has faced threats and online harassment before, such as when he posted an image of himself with a lion he had killed. But the PETA campaign is sure to bring him a new notoriety, and deepen the debate about trophy hunting.
“I don’t understand why this is anybody’s business but my own,” Raby said. “What I did is legal. I didn’t break a law. They’re going to place a ban because a bunch of … crybabies that don’t like hunting.”
California has become a focus of the trophy fight partly because the federal government has vacillated on banning such imports. This year, the Trump administration approved the import of a lion trophy from Tanzania, the first since lions began receiving protections in January 2016 as a threatened species.
Fearing the administration may approve more trophy imports, wildlife advocates are hoping California will provide a line of defense.
Some experts argue the practice provides funding for local communities, raises money for wildlife management and gives people who live near dangerous or destructive animals — such as lions and elephants — an incentive to conserve them instead of kill them.
Others say there is no evidence that trophy hunting provides these benefits, and, even if it did, they question whether killing and dismembering such creatures justifies those ends.
The scope of the imports is vast. In 2017 alone, more than 650,000 wildlife trophies were imported to the United States, including species considered internationally rare or threatened, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.
Last winter, after years of diligently saving, Raby embarked on a two-week hunting expedition in South Africa, led by a pair of experienced safari guides.
A video of the hunt, which PETA shared with The Times, shows a startled elephant facing the hunter and his phalanx of guides and trackers. As the young male pachyderm looks on — his ears widening — the guides set up a tripod upon which Raby places his rifle.
Raby shoots, and the bullet hits the elephant in its head. The elephant crumbles to his knees. Over the next 2½ minutes, Raby shoots the elephant four more times — three more hitting the animal’s head. The footage shows the elephant breathing heavily, groaning, bleeding and struggling to get up.
Raby’s guides continue to encourage him to get a cleaner shot. They never offer or attempt to intercede to quickly end the animal’s suffering.
The video cuts off before the elephant dies, although later footage — which Raby posted on YouTube and his Facebook page — shows crews skinning and deboning the elephant.
Raby has killed hundreds of animals across North America, as well as in Europe, Africa and Russia. Photos of his forays can be viewed on his public Instagram page, including one that shows a dead wolverine and another in which he is hugging a dead leopard.
The elephant was the culmination of Raby’s African “Big Five” quest. He’d already killed a lion, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo and leopard.
Raby said he hunts not for the kill, but for the experience and adventure of the hunt — living outdoors, cooking around a campfire, tracking an animal and immersing himself in the wild.
He also notes that lions regularly kill agricultural and pastoral animals — and occasionally people — while elephants can destroy homes and crops.
“We pay a lot of money to hunt these animals,” Raby said. “If we didn’t hunt, that land would be converted into cattle ranches and there’d be poaching. They don’t want lions killing their cattle or elephants destroying their crops.”
Mike Axelrad, a trophy hunter from Texas, said hunting provides financial incentives that prevent poaching. He said animals are often poisoned if considered a nuisance — a painful and often prolonged death.
Craig Packer, a biology professor and director of the University of Minnesota’s lion research center, said there are examples of successful trophy-hunting conservation preserves in countries such as Namibia and Zimbabwe — in which the proceeds from international hunting expeditions have provided funding to conserve wildlife habitat and employ people from local communities.
Unfortunately, he said, in most places, these reserves don’t translate into the desired outcomes because the money spent by hunters — a lion hunt can range from $20,000 to $70,000 — doesn’t come close to the kind of money needed to conserve biodiversity and manage habitat. Or employ enough people to have a meaningful effect on a community.
In addition, corruption in many countries and regions often makes it impossible to know where the money is going, to whom, and how the hunts are regulated.
“Many of these hunting preserves are fly-by-night operations. Business owners swoop in, sell big takes, and leave. They aren’t in it for the long term,” he said.
Others dispute Packer’s examples of hunting’s benefits.
“The emperor has no clothes,” said Adrian Treves, a conservation biologist at the University of Wisconsin and director of the Carnivore Coexistence Laboratory.
Treves says there are no concrete data supporting the idea that hunting promotes biodiversity, habitat conservation or local employment and engagement. Proponents tend to repeatedly cite the few studies that bolster the argument for hunting, creating a body of research that boils down to “self-citation,” he said.
An even bigger issue, said Chelsea Batavia, a conservation biologist at Oregon State University, is ethics.
“We know these animal are intelligent, they have emotional capacity and they have complicated social lives,” she said. Even if proponents could demonstrate that trophy hunting benefits conservation, she added, “do the ends justify the means?”
The debate, she said, needs to be seen in the context of colonialism, in which European traditions were and still are imposed upon Africans. What is needed, she said, are alternative conservation measures that aren’t issued from the top or from outside, but supported and embraced by local communities.
PETA is requesting that officials from South Africa investigate Raby’s hunt and, in particular, the prolonged death of the elephant.Newsletter
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In a letter to officials at the Balule preserve, Jared Goodman, PETA’s vice president and deputy general counsel, said the kill violated the preserve’s requirement that animals are provided with “ethical and humane” treatment and that its guides comply “with the highest moral and ethical standards in recognition of a reverence for life and good sportsmanship.”
As for Raby, he said he’d leave California if Stern’s legislation becomes law.
“We’re not all bloodthirsty, psycho machines that people make us out to be,” he said. “I promise you, I can read an animal better than someone who is against hunting. They say they like animals, but they don’t know anything about them.”