Zoos urged to halt imports of African elephants

As a former zookeeper, I believe zoos do have a real part to play in conservation – but definitely not for ‘Africana loxodonta’ 

From China Daily : Wildlife experts have called for Chinese zoos to stop importing elephants from Africa, saying they cannot meet the animals’ physical or psychological needs.

In January, four young elephants were imported from Zimbabwe, two for Xinjiang Safari Park in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and two for Taiyuan Zoo in Shanxi province. However, one at Taiyuan Zoo died soon afterwards.

Joyce Poole, an elephant behavior study expert with Elephant Voice, an NGO in the United States, said confining wild elephants to cages should be stopped.

Elephants are complex animals who like to live with their family and in herds, she said. They have the habit of walking long distances each day to hunt for food, meet spouses and to conduct other social activities.

“Foraging is an intellectual challenge,” Poole said, pointing out that elephants learn many skills while on the move.

Liu Xiaoyu, a volunteer with the China Animal Observer Group, a Beijing-based NGO, said she has seen several elephants at zoos nationwide hurting themselves, which she says is a sign of depression.

“Once elephant (at Taiyuan Zoo) kept rubbing itself against the walls. It definitely felt uncomfortable,” she said.

According to her research, zoos target young elephants because they are easier to import than older animals. As a result, exported young elephants can easily experience serious depression from being apart from their families.

Mang Ping, a professor with the Academy of Chinese Culture, said the death of the elephant at Taiyuan Zoo last year clearly showed the zoo did not prepare for its arrival.

“How can animals that come from tropical rainforests survive in sub-zero temperatures in northern China?” she asked. “Besides the poor conditions, unethical and immoral methods imposed by zoo staff for performance training are also disastrous for elephants.”

But Zhang Jingsong, a senior engineer with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said: “China can export pandas to zoos in other countries, why can’t we import elephants from Africa?”

China has temporarily halted imports of another 14 elephants from Zimbabwe after the death at Taiyuan Zoo, according to Meng Xianlin, director of the China Management Authority for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora.

“However, the importing behavior itself is in accordance with international and domestic law,” he said. “The Chinese side should further check on elephants’ health.”

Zhou Ke, a professor at Renmin University of China, said: “The wildlife importing and exporting approval system remains a blind spot in China. Regulation has no consideration of animals’ welfare, which is the root of all animal tragedies.”

Jiang Mengyu contributed to this story.

yangyao@chinadaily.com.cn

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