After international outcry, five baby elephants spared a lifetime of misery in a Chinese zoo

A happy ending: After their release into the wild, the captured baby elephants have been adopted by adult females within a herd which bodes well for their long-term survival.Thanks to international outcry and vigorous campaigning by a coalition of animal welfare organizations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), five baby elephants caught from the wild and destined for a life-time of misery in zoos and wildlife parks in China, were returned to their wilderness home in Zimbabwe.

Although, these calves weren’t able to be united with their own families, amazingly they were adopted by another elephant family.

This almost ensures that these young elephants will survive under the protection of other adult females in the herd, guided by the wisdom of the matriarch.

These five lucky elephants start their rehabilitation back into the wild at Umfurudzi Park in Zimbabwe.

I am writing this with bittersweet emotions.

While these five elephants were spared a life of misery, isolation and despair in China, I am keenly aware there will be attempts to catch more elephants to supply zoos and safari parks in the Far East.

A zoo is no place for an elephant.

Even the most modern zoo, exercising the industry’s best practices, cannot meet the physical and psychological needs of these highly intelligent and social animals.

While some zoos are starting to question whether it is ethical to keep elephants if they are unable to properly care for them, the animals are still highly sought after by zoos in China.

In November 2012, four elephant calves were taken from their mothers in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest reserve, by the Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife Management Authority and sold to Taiyuan Zoo in northern China and Xinjiang Safari Park in northwest China.

One baby died soon after arriving at Taiyuan Zoo. From photos and videos I have seen, the surviving baby is seriously sick, with sores on its body, in solitary confinement in a damp, cold and dark cage with a concrete floor, suffering physically, emotionally and psychologically.

It is inexcusable to take wild elephants out of their natural habitats and confine them to zoos and safari parks, especially in China where there’s no animal welfare legislation to protect them from abuse and substandard conditions.

Putting elephants in zoos does not serve any educational purpose whatsoever.

Instead, the lack of welfare standards in zoos and safari parks in China will only re-enforce apathy among the viewing public about the needs and sufferings of animals.

IFAW will continue to campaign proactively against any commercial exploitation of elephants, be it live elephants or ivory.

We believe elephants belong in the wild.


For more information on our work to protect elephants, go to our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
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