CITES: Ban on sending wild African baby elephants to zoos and circuses

August 27 2019

A victory for baby elephants! The historic vote reaffirmed today will mean that the lives of baby elephants will be spared a life of suffering and cruelty in zoos and circuses far from their home.

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On Sunday August 18, country representatives at CITES voted to end the cruel and barbaric capture of wild African baby elephants from Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia for export for entertainment venues and zoos.

With 46 countries in favor, 18 against and 19 abstaining, the vote cast in one of two committees secured the two-thirds majority needed to pass, but the fight to keep baby elephants away from a life of suffering is not over yet.

This decision has now (Tues 27) been approved in favor of the proposal.

An African elephant mother and calf, Kenya. Photo credit: Emma Chapman/Scott Liffen

What was discussed at CITES on Sunday 18th August?

The US and Canada voted against this proposal and the EU rose on the floor to speak against it. Those that oppose are likely to try to overturn the decision before the conference ends. If the US, CA and EU decide not to uphold this landmark decision, baby African elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana will be torn from their mothers and destined to live a life of cruelty and suffering.

What’s the final outcome?

The historic vote reaffirmed today, with minor amendments from the EU on August 27 will mean that the lives of baby elephants will be spared a life of suffering and cruelty in zoos and circuses far from their home.

In situ conservation programmes or secure areas in the wild within the species’ natural range should be the only destinations considered “appropriate and acceptable” for wild elephants.

By a vote of 87 in favor, 29 opposed and 25 abstaining, the decision overwhelming passed the 2/3 majority required.

An elephant is trained to take commands. 

The welfare issue and how does it link to our work?

Over the past few years Zimbabwe alone has sold over 90 elephants to China. After their cruel capture from the wild these elephants were kept in small pens in Africa, often beaten and kicked. Eventually they were then shipped in cargo planes to China to stock some of the largest zoos and safari parks there. The stress of transport, the lifelong separation from their families and the inadequate environment in a captive facility abroad led to severe suffering of these intelligent and majestic animals. While it is unclear if these elephants are being used for shows or rides, some of the previous destination safari parks in China do also offer cruel circus shows with tigers, bears and dolphins.

Cassandra Koenen, Global Head of Wildlife. Not Pets at World Animal Protection said:

“This is a landmark decision that will the change the lives of many baby elephants. We applaud all the nations at CITES that made the decision to protect elephants.

“The world has been shocked to see distressing video and photos of terrified baby African elephants being rounded up and snatched from their families in the wild, to be shipped to zoos around the world.

“Elephants have suffered enough, and they deserve a life worth living. Many when captured and held in captivity undergo cruel training to make them submissive enough for tourist interaction or performances. The absolute last thing we should subject them to is long, stressful transportation across the world, and unsuitable new homes in the name of entertainment. These animals belong in the wild.”

We applaud all the nations at CITES that made the decision to protect elephants. Elephants have suffered enough, and they deserve a life worth living.

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