The United States of America Should Address Environmental Crime in Zimbabwe

Why is the U.S. government remaining silent?

Recently, the world was appalled to learn that 34 socially complex elephant calves have been kept in confinement in Zimbabwe since November. The kidnapped baby elephants are slated for imminent exportation to foreign zoos, despite being worth far more alive to the people of Zimbabwe. If the elephants are exported to China, they face a death sentence. The few who survive will be imprisoned.

It is the position of Elephants DC, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing elephant well-being, that an environmental crime is occurring in Hwange National Park — a brutal crime with gunfire. In November, armed men kidnapped these baby elephants from the wild for global buyers. The calves remain in quarantine, broken hearted and separated from their mothers, for now. But their exportation is impending. And most of these vulnerable calves, as prior evidence has shown, will not survive a journey overseas to China.

Last month, we with officials from the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Washington DC to advocate for answers and the release of the baby elephants, but the Zimbabwean government has yet to answer our questions.

Moreover, we are shocked that our own U.S. government has been silent on this horrific wildlife crime so far.

Wildlife crime is an egregious act against our planet, against vulnerable species who deserve protection, and against humanity. In December, Prince William visited Washington DC to address wildlife crime, calling it one of the most insidious forms of corruption and criminality in the world today.” 

The U.S. government’s silence is a silence that can’t go on. To save these baby elephants, and all elephants, we need to speak out loudly against the crimes committed against elephants and other endangered species. If we fail to raise a strong global voice for these 34 elephant calves, more will be kidnapped,  more elephant families be slaughtered for ivory, and more animals will die from cyanide poising in Zimbabwe.

Despite publicly decrying environmental crime, U.S. leaders have thus far declined to comment on what is happening in Zimbabwe. Why? The very future of the remaining elephants in Zimbabwe may be at stake.

Elephants are protected under international law.  Ripping more than 30 milk dependent elephant calves from their mothers, violently, is very cruel and certainly inhumane. Yet, the Zimbabwean government is justifying with labels such as “resources” and “conservation.” The Zimbabwean government has rejected attempts to save these elephants by the international animal welfare community. And a government that would sanction such a practice — a government that would turn its eyes from all the vicious crimes against wildlife that have been committed on its soil — is a government that will continue to abuse, kidnap, and murder its elephants until none are left.

At this rate, Zimbabwe is on a violent path to decimate its remaining elephant population. It’s time for the world to speak out. It’s time for the U.S. government to speak out.

And speaking out is not enough, either. The United States of America should refuse to support the government of Zimbabwe unless the 34 baby elephants are immediately released to the care of conservationists. Our government should not send aid or other support to Zimbabwe unless Zimbabwe allows the international community to preserve the wildlife of the Hwange. Also guarantees are needed that no more elephant calves will be kidnapped from their families.

Ultimately, we believe that preserving the wildlife of Zimbabwe is in the nation’s best interest.  It is a move that could reinvigorate tourism and begin the nation on a path of healing for the betterment of all citizens. We believe that the entire global community — and especially our U.S. government, as a world leader — should do everything in our power to encourage Zimbabwe to save these kidnapped elephants and protect its remaining wildlife.

These baby elephants don’t have much time left. The time to take a stand, and take action, is now.

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