WASHINGTON (CN) – Zimbabwe’s plans to export baby African elephants deserves swift condemnation from the United States, conservationists told a federal judge.
Friends of Animals and Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force say they petitioned U.S. official within days of the Jan. 12 announcement from Zimbabwe that it would export about 62 baby African elephants to China, the United Arab Emirates and France.
Thailand has since replaced France on the list of buyers ready to pay $40,000 per elephant, according to the June 4 complaint those groups filed.
The groups note that their petition sought a policy statement by the United States, condemning Zimbabwe’s export of African baby elephants, and that they have waited a reasonable amount of time before seeking judicial intervention.
Though Zimbabwe’s government says its ecosystem can sustain only 42,000 elephants, and that it has in excess of 80,000, the conservationists call this claim “outrageous” and discordant with “the overwhelming amount of studies proving the decline in elephant populations in Zimbabwe.”
It has been just 11 months since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that Zimbabwe’s survey of its elephant population failed to determine if it has a surplus for hunting, according to the complaint.
The process of rounding up baby elephants is heartbreaking, the groups note.
“To capture the baby elephants, helicopters hover above the herds and fire shotguns until the herd scatters,” the complaint says. “The baby elephants that cannot keep up are kidnapped. The captured elephants are usually between two and five years old – a time when they are heavily reliant on their mothers.”
The groups say some of these elephants do not even belong to Zimbabwe.
“Many of them are being captured in a national park that borders Botswana and is less than 100 kilometers from Zambia, which makes it very likely that the elephants only spend some of their time migrating through Zimbabwe,” the complaint states. “These countries rely on having elephants in their own parks and tourist industries and if Zimbabwe unilaterally takes them it will continue to generate tension and controversy between these countries.”
A February report by National Geographic said that Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is holding more than 80 young elephants “in a capture facility,” surrounded by “guards armed with AK-47s,” according to the complaint.
“The need to protect African elephants now is imminent,” the complaint states. “In addition to the dwindling population, there is also plethora of evidence to show the detrimental impact of Zimbabwe’s actions on individual elephants. Elephants help each other in distress, grieve for their dead and feel the same emotions – happiness, love, sorrow – for each other just as we do.”
Zimbabwe has already torn the baby elephants from their mothers and locked them in cells, the groups say.
The elephants are “lonely, scared and without the protection or care of their mothers,” according to the complaint.
“Despite proven research on the devastating effects of breaking apart family groups, Zimbabwe has failed to provide any information as to why this heartbreaking abduction is necessary,” the action continues.
The United States has a chance to combat this “inhumane travesty” by renouncing Zimbabwe’s plan and urging China, the United Arab Emirates and Thailand to rescind their commitments to Zimbabwe, the groups say.
Supplementing the nine-page action are 79 pages of attachments, including a White House strategy released last year to combat wildlife trafficking.
Demanding a final decision on their emergency rulemaking petition within 30 days, the plaintiffs want the court to find that the government’s delay violates the Administrative Procedure Act.
They are represented by Michael Ray Harris with Friends of Animals in Centennial, Colo.
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