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Zimbabwe plans to export more elephants to China, and no it won’t say sorry

The advocacy group Elephants DC provided this photo of an elephant caught in the wild and held at Hwange National Park in February. Zimbabwe has sold dozens of the young elephants to China. (Elephants DC)

Zimbabwe is planning to export more elephants to China – and it won't say sorry for doing so.

"We will not apologize to anyone," Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, Environment, Water and Climate Minister, told reporters from the Herald on Sunday. "Not even once because they are our elephants and our people live with a huge population of elephants and bear the trouble of interacting with them."

In the past, Zimbabwe's policy of exporting its wildlife to China has drawn the ire of conservationists, who note that here is a high demand for the ivory that can be taken from elephants' tusks in China. Last June, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ruled that a deal to sell 24 animals to China was illegal, but it went ahead anyway.

When the animals arrive in China, they are due to arrive Chimelong Safari Park in Guangdong Province of China. While some reports say that the wild animals are used in circus-style performances in the park, Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters that she had visited the park and it wasn't so bad.

"I am satisfied that the animals are in good shape and being well taken care of," she said, later adding that there was a drought in Zimbabwe and the elephants would likely die unless they were exported. "It is better we sell them, especially to those who can take good care of them. Whatever our detractors say, we don't mind."

China and Zimbabwe have a close relationship, with the African state recently announcing that it would adopt the Chinese yuan as an official currency  — part of a deal in which Beijing will also cancel about $40 million in debt. Zimbabwe was the first stop on Chinese President Xi Jinping's tour of Africa this month, with Zimbabwe's longtime President Robert Mugabe greeting him by saying: "China is Zimbabwe's all-weather friend."

Speaking to reporters, Muchinguri-Kashiri admitted that the new plan was partly about money (conservationists estimate that elephants can be sold for roughly $50,000 each; Zimbabwe has already sold around 100 to Beijing). "We are here in China to also look at anti-poaching and surveillance technology like drones and helicopters because the poachers are getting more sophisticated," the minister said. "All these things need money and we must raise the money."

Zimbabwe would also sell baboons, hyenas and lions to China if need be, Muchinguri-Kashiri said.

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