An elephant crosses a road in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s wildlife agency said Thursday that it has sold 35 elephants to China to reduce overpopulation and raise money for conservation. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

Zimbabwe’s wildlife agency said Thursday that it has sold 35 elephants to China to reduce overpopulation and raise funds for conservation.

Animal-welfare activists who are against taking elephants out of the wild announced last week that the animals were headed to China.

This once-wealthy country’s economy has fallen apart, and Zimbabwe’s government has said it needs to sell wildlife to support its people and conservation efforts. The government also has tried to sell its ivory stockpile for millions of dollars.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority did not say how much China paid for the 35 elephants but said it was “turning to friendly countries to extract value out of our wildlife.”

Zimbabwe had not confirmed the December 23 sale before Thursday.

The wildlife agency didn’t say whether the elephants were adults, which has been a concern for some conservation groups.

“Why is it done [secretly] and then announced two weeks later? Because we know that at times calves have been taken away from their mothers, conditions have been atrocious and the money, no one really knows how it is used,” said Johnny Rodrigues, whose Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce has criticized elephant sales to China.

The statement by Zimbabwe’s wildlife agency said its conservation efforts have been limited by restrictions on selling the country’s ivory stockpile and on trophy hunting of certain species. Zimbabwe’s government does not set aside money for conservation; the wildlife agency raises its own funds.

In 2014, the United States banned the import of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s wildlife agency has said this wildlife-rich southern African country has at least 36,000 more elephants than it can support.

The 35 elephants were captured from Hwange National Park and flown to China’s Shanghai Exhibition Park, Beijing Wildlife Park and Hangzhou Wildlife Park, the agency said. It said it followed international regulations in the sale, adding that it previously sold other animals to Europe and the United States.