Wild baby elephants had always been subjected to being caught and sold off to foreign zoos and entertainment centres around the world. But with the recent ban from the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), it is no longer legal to trade in wild elephants for purposes of putting them in zoos.
The ban was hailed as "momentous," being a huge milestone for wildlife in Africa. CITES, a global regulator of wildlife trade, imposed a near-total ban on sending African elephants from the wild to the zoos after a heated debate last week at the CITES conference in Geneva. Before this ban, African elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana could be sold to other countries deemed "appropriate and acceptable" destinations. Zimbabwe used this provision to sell captured baby elephants from the wild to China and other countries around the world.
It is not a surprise that Zimbabwe voiced the biggest disapproval and opposition to the ban, arguing that the country had been deprived of a revenue stream. Zimbabwe, alongside Botswana provides most of the wild African elephants to zoos outside the continent. Trade in wild elephants is now strictly regulated, only being allowed in "exceptional" circumstances. The new stringent conditions also means that each proposed sale would be brought before the CITES committee first.
In total, 87 countries voted in favour, while 29 were against the ban. 25 countries abstained. The United States was one of the countries that raised their biggest opposition to the ban.
The European Union had been hell-bent on rejecting the new ban, but later backtracked on this after much backroom talks. There was also pressure from the UK for the EU to accept the new ban.
This means that baby elephants in Africa get to stay in their natural homes - the wild. These young baby elephants are ripped from their families, from their habitat and shipped to zoos where they are damned to short lives, lonely and barren.
Zimbabwe is viewing this latest development with much scorn. Zimbabwe's president Emmerson Mnangagwa said that the country could pull out of CITES, saying that the body is controlled by Europeans who have exhausted their wildlife resources and they want to set rules for Africa.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said that the move denies the country the opportunity for foreign currency meant for development.
Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for the authority said, "the government has been pumping out a lot of money for conservation with no real return, yet our government has competing social needs."
"We view our animals as an economic opportunity, so we should sell our elephants ... We have too many of them so selling them should not be a problem for anyone. Why should we continue to impoverish our people when we have the resource?"
While this argument may be plausible, it is flawed. This is because the government of Zimbabwe has not been doing anything to solve the myriad of economic problems plaguing the country and sending millions of people into misery.
Header image credit - Journal of African Elephants