Malnourished, sunken-looking, and scarred by wounds baby elephants were snatched from their natural habitats in Hwange, Zimbabwe to be caged in China. The pictures where taken in secret and sent to the National Geographic.
“These calves look really horrible,” says Joyce Poole, co-founder ofElephantVoices, a Kenya-based research and advocacy organization. Poole reviewed the photos, which were sent exclusively to National Geographic.
“I have seen at least 23 elephants,” wrote Chunmei Hu, a project manager with Nature University, a Beijing-based environmental NGO.
Hu says she took the photos on Monday at the Qingyuan Chimelong quarantine facility, in Guandong Province. “Most of the elephants have been hurt.”
The National Geographic was alerted by conservationists last month that the Chinese crews were in Hwange National Park—where tens of elephants had been held since November 2014—readying them for transport to China.
China’s purchase of the elephants from Zimbabwe is sanctioned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(CITES).
CITES General Secretary John Scanlon released a statement confirming the transfer of 24 elephants to China earlier this month. The statement said the elephants are destined for the massive Chimelong Safari Park, in Guangdong.
The export has been decried by animal welfare advocates and conservation organizations around the globe. Opponents say it’s cruel to subject elephants—known for their emotional depth, cooperative nature, and great intelligence—to the trauma of separation from their kind and confinement in prison-like zoos and safari parks.
Zimbabwe announced earlier this year that it would be selling more elephants abroad.