Zimbabwean activists have launched a last-minute bid to prevent the controversial export of three dozen baby elephants to a Chinese safari park.
The move came after a network of wildlife investigators said they had received information that a Chinese transportation crew had arrived in Zimbabwe to export around 35 animals before the end of this week.
The People and Earth Solidarity Law Network, a Zimbabwean NGO that filed a law suit demanding the government release details of the export deal in May, on Friday wrote to lawyers representing the Zimbabwe National Parks Authority warning that they could be in contempt of court if the the elephants are exported before the case has gone before a judge.
The young elephants, who are believed to have been forcibly separated from their parents in the wild, have been at the center of a legal battle since footage of them being held in pen in the Hwange national park emerged in February.
Campaigners say they believe 35 animals have been sold to China and two to Pakistan, and have accused authorities of trying to keep the arrangement secret because it may have violated Zimbabwean and international animal welfare regulations.
Webster Jiti, the lawyer representing the group, said their legal action had already forced the postponement of previous attempt to export the animals in June.
“If it is discovered that the transactions resemble underhand transactions, Zimbabwe should pull out of the deal,” he said. “That would mean anything that damages the welfare of the elephants, involves illicit money changing hands, or contravening international law,” he said.
Tinashe Farawo, a spokesman for Zimbabwe National Parks, said much of the information being demanded by the lawsuit was already public and that translocation only ever carried out in accordance with Zimbabwean and international law.
“They are alleging we are not transparent. We are a public entity, and we are audited by the auditor general. Everything we are doing is in accordance with the law of the country and international obligations,” he said.
“Our record speaks for itself. We must be doing something right with our wildlife. That is why we have the second biggest elephant population in the world,” he added.