Zimbabwe has exported 20 elephants to private game parks in China as part of conservation efforts and amid rising poaching in southern Africa.
“The elephants arrived safely in China yesterday” after being flown out of Harare International Airport on Saturday, Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere said in an interview on Monday. “All of them are alive.”
Zimbabwe, which last month flew five black rhinos to Botswana, has been seeking new homes for some of its animals amid rising poaching and as they encroach on human settlements. The elephants, which can eat 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of food each a day, have been accused of destroying vegetation in the Hwange national park and damaging the crops and livelihoods of neighboring communities.
“There is nothing irregular with this export, this is part of elephant conservation,” Kasukuwere said. “Everything is above board and in line with the law.”
The sale of elephants, which according to park officials can fetch between $40,000 and $60,000 each, has been criticized by animal rights groups concerned about the stress the animals endure when caught and separated from family units as well as their well being in their new homes.
Zimbabwe wildlife officials will visit China during the next three weeks to assess how well the elephants are adapting to their new home.
While African elephants are considered endangered, with about 470,000 left in the wild in 37 countries, about 300,000 of them live in the southern African nations of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.