Exclusive: footage shows young elephants being captured in Zimbabwe for Chinese zoos

Rare footage of the capture of wild young elephants in Zimbabwe shows rough treatment of the calves as they are sedated and taken away

The Guardian has been given exclusive footage which shows the capture of young, wild elephants in Zimbabwe in preparation, it is believed, for their legal sale to Chinese zoos.

In the early morning of 8 August, five elephants were caught in Hwange national park by officials at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks).

These captures are usually kept as secret as possible. The Guardian understands that in this case the usual procedure was followed. First, a viable herd is identified. Then operatives in a helicopter pick off the younger elephants with a sedative fired from a rifle. As the elephant collapses, the pilot dive-bombs the immediate vicinity so the rest of the herd, attempting to come to the aid of the fallen animal, are kept at bay. When things quieten down, a ground-team approaches the sedated elephants on foot, bundles them up, and drags them on to trailers.

The footage, a series of isolated clips and photographs provided to the Guardian by an anonymous source associated with the operation, documents the moment that operatives are running into the bush, then shows them tying up one young elephant. The elephants are then seen herded together in a holding pen near the main tourist camp in Hwange.

Elephant
In this part of the footage, a young female elephant is seen being kicked in the head repeatedly by one of the captors. Photograph: The Guardian

Finally, in the most disturbing part of the footage, a small female elephant, likely around five years old, is seen standing in the trailer. Her body is tightly tied to the vehicle by two ropes. Only minutes after being taken from the wild, the animal, still groggy from the sedative, is unable to understand that the officials want her to back into the truck, so they smack her on her body, twist her trunk, pull her by her tail and repeatedly kick her in the head with their boots.

Altogether, 14 elephants were captured during this time period, according to the source, who asked to remain to anonymous for fear of reprisal. The intention was to take more elephants, but the helicopter crashed during one of the operations. It is estimated that 30-40 elephants were to be captured in total.

The elephants that were taken are now in holding pens at an off-limits facility within Hwange called Umtshibi, according to the source. One expert who reviewed the photographs, Joyce Poole, an expert on elephant behaviour and co-director of the Kenya-based organisation ElephantVoices, said the elephants were bunching huddling together because they are frightened.

The
The young elephants in their enclosure. According to experts, they are bunching, huddling together because they are frightened. Photograph: The Guardian

Audrey Delsink, an elephant behavioural ecologist and executive director for Executive Director for Humane Society International Africa, also reviewed the photos and footage. She believed that most of the elephants were aged between two and four. Basically, these calves have just been weaned or are a year or two into the weaning process. In the wild, elephants are completely dependent on their mothers milk until they are two, and are not fully weaned until the age of five.

A number of the calves, she said, were displaying temporal streaming a stress-induced activity. Many of the gestures indicate apprehensive and displacement behaviour trunk twisting, trunk curled under, face touching, foot swinging, head-shaking, ear-cocking, displacement feeding, amongst others. Zimparks were approached but did not make a comment.

The buyer for the young elephants is a Chinese national, according to inside sources who asked not to be named. Last year he was associated with a case involving 11 wild hyenas, who were discovered in a truck at Harare international airport that had been on the road for 24 hours without food or water and were reportedly in an extremely stressed condition, dehydrated and emaciated and, in some cases, badly injured.

One
One of the hyenas found in a consignment at Harare airport in Zimbabwe. Photograph: The Guardian

The legal live trade in wild animals

The capture of the baby elephants is just one of a number of operations that have taken place in Zimbabwe and across the continent over several decades. Nine elephants were reportedly exported from Namibia to Mexico in 2012, six from Namibia to Cuba in 2013, and more than 25 from Zimbabwe to China in 2015. In 2016, the US imported 17 elephants from Swaziland despite objections from the public and conservationists. From 1995-2015, more than 600 wild African elephants and 400 wild Asian elephants are reported to have been traded globally, according to a database kept by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Under Cites, trading live elephants is legal, with a few stipulations. The destination must be appropriate and acceptable, and the sale must benefit conservation in the home country. But elephant conservationists and animal welfare advocates point out a number of flaws in the system. There are no criteria setting out what appropriate and acceptable means and what is really contributing to conservation, explained Daniela Freyer of Pro-Wildlife, a German-based organisation that seeks to improve international legislation protecting wildlife. Currently, it is entirely up to authorities in the importing countries to define and decide. There are no common rules and no monitoring of the conditions of the capture, the number of animals being traded, where they will end up or the conditions in which they will be kept at their destination. There is also no monitoring of the requirement that a sale benefit conservation.

For example, Zimbabwe and China are the biggest players in the live elephant trade, but Iris Ho, wildlife programme manager at Humane Society International (HSI), says they have found little information from the importing countries on the animals arrival. We dont know how many facilities in China have received the elephants imported from Zimbabwe during the last few years. We dont know the status of these animals.

Attempts to comply with the few Cites stipulations such as appropriate and acceptable destinations are sometimes dismissed. In 2016, a Zimbabwe delegation of Zimparks and ZNSPCA inspectors travelled to China to access the facilities, where they found that most of the zoos showed signs of poor treatment of the animals. But their recommendation that a shipment of 36 elephants remain in Zimbabwe until the holding facilities in China were completed and assessed for compliance by Zimbabwe, was ignored.

On September 16 Chinese papers announced in cheery headlines that three elephants two females and a male, aged approximately four years old had arrived at the Lehe Ledu wildlife zoo. Photographs of the elephants from Chinese media were analysed by Poole, who noted that the face one of the females looked pinched and stressed. The elephant appears to have begun to wear her tusks down on the bars, rubbing back and forth in frustration. Poole added that the sunken look, dark eyes and mottled skin are common for young, captured elephants. In the wild, you only see the pinched, sunken look in sick or orphaned elephants.

The zoo has said that it is providing more than 1,000 square metres of indoor space and 3,000 sq metres outdoors. The animals have six full-time babysitters and every meal is prepared carefully, based on scientific recommendation.

A video posted on YouTube celebrating the arrival of the elephants at Lehe Ledu zoo.

Finally, questions have been asked about whether Zimbabwe is complying with the Cites stipulation that the sale of the elephants must benefit their conservation in the wild. The environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, was reported in the Guardian last year as saying the sale of the elephants was necessary to raise funds to take care of national parks in Zimbabwe, which have been ravaged by drought and poaching. But in the past, there have been unconfirmed reports of Grace Mugabe, the presidents wife, using funds from the sales of elephants to pay off a military debt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The international body governing the trade, Cites, is increasingly coming under fire for its role. The scientific literature states that captive facilities continue to fall far short of meeting elephants natural needs for movement, space and extended social networks, with negative effects on health, behavior and reproduction, said Anna Mul, a legal adviser on animal law at Fondation Franz Weber, an organisation that is lobbying Cites to end the trade of live elephants.

A spokesman for CITES said: The triennial CITES conference held last year (CoP17) agreed that appropriate and acceptable destinations was defined as destinations where the importing State is satisfied that the recipient of the live animals is suitably equipped to house and care for them. CoP17 also agreed on a process to assess if additional guidance on this matter is required. Further, both the importing and exporting countries are now required to be satisfied that any trade in live elephants should promote the conservation of elephants in the wild. In addition, the exporting Party must also be satisfied that animals are prepared and shipped so as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment of live elephants in trade… CITES does not address the way in which the animals are captured or stored prior to export.

But for now, China continues to import the vulnerable elephants at almost conveyor-belt speed. According to Ho, some pressure to stop the practice is beginning to be felt, but the country is influenced by the view that breeding is conservation. And then, of course, there is a willing partner in Zimbabwe and the thrill of seeing African elephants by the visitors.

Its a win-win, she said, for those who are financially profiting from the legal trade in the calves. But its a lose-lose for the animals, both imported and left behind.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/03/exclusive-footage-shows-young-elephants-being-captured-in-zimbabwe-for-chinese-zoos

Liu Xiaobo cremated in ‘private ceremony’, amid fears for wife’s safety

Liu Xia attends the cremation, but rights activists say they have not heard from her in three days

The Nobel laureate and democracy icon Liu Xiaobo has been cremated in north-eastern China, Chinese authorities have announced, amid growing fears for the safety of his wife, Liu Xia.

The veteran dissident died on Thursday, aged 61, becoming the first Nobel peace prize winner to die in custody since the 1935 recipient, German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, died under surveillance after years confined to Nazi concentration camps.

Speaking at a press conference in the city of Shenyang, where Liu died, government spokesperson Zhang Qingyang said his cremation had taken place at a local funeral parlour following a short mourning service early on Saturday morning.

Lius body was cremated in accordance with the will of his family members and local customs, Chinas official news agency, Xinhua, said in a brief dispatch.

Zhang claimed the private ceremony had been attended by family and good friends of the dissident although friends and supporters have said they were ordered not to travel to Shenyang by Chinese security services. Mozarts Requiem was played.

The spokesman told reporters Lius wife, the poet and photographer Liu Xia, had been in attendance and had been given her husbands ashes. She was in very low spirits, he added, according to AFP.

As the revered democracy activist was cremated, friends of the couple said they were growing increasingly concerned about the well-being of Liu Xia. The 56-year-old has been living under heavy surveillance and in almost total isolation since her husband won the Nobel prize, in 2010, and had hoped to leave China along with Liu Xiaobo before his death.

We have lost touch with her now for three full days, Jared Genser, a US human rights lawyer who represents her and her late husband, told the Guardian. Im incredibly concerned about her health and welfare.

China News Service, a Communist party-controlled news agency, claimed on Friday that Liu Xia was a free woman who was deliberately shunning her friends and relatives because she wanted to grieve in peace.

Zhang, the government spokesman, repeated those claims on Saturday as Lius cremation was announced. Liu Xia is free, he said, according to Reuters, without revealing her whereabouts. I believe the relevant departments will protect Liu Xias rights according to the law, Zhang added.

According to AFP, Zhang claimed Liu Xia was emotionally grieving and did not want too much outside interference.

Funeral
Funeral ceremony for Liu Xiaobo. Photograph: Supplied

Genser rejected claims that Liu Xia was free as a sick joke.

It leaves me incredulous to think that the Chinese government would think that anybody would believe such a claim: that she is grieving and does not want to be disturbed. I mean, come on. That is just totally ridiculous.

Genser added: We all know the truth. The truth is clear as day. She has been under house arrest without charge or trial for seven years and even after her husband is dead that appears not to be good enough for the Chinese government.

Shang Baojun, a Chinese lawyer who represented Liu Xiaobo and was his friend, said he had not attended the funeral. I know nothing about it, he said by phone, before explaining that it was not convenient to talk a common expression in China indicating that someone is coming under pressure from authorities to stay silent.

The Global Times, a Communist party controlled tabloid, chose to mark Lius cremation with a vicious personal assault. He was paranoid, naive and arrogant, the newspaper said in an English-language editorial. Chinese society opposes and despises him.

Deification of Liu by the west will be eventually overshadowed by Chinas denial of him, it added, branding the Nobel laureate a disruptive player to Chinas development theme.

Genser called for international pressure to help Liu Xia escape this Kafkaesque nightmare that has been her life.

My heart breaks for her. It is just terrible. We have to get her out. We cant live in a world in which she is not free, he said.

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/15/liu-xiaobo-cremated-in-shenyang-amid-growing-fears-for-safety-of-his-wife

China’s ‘war on law’: victims’ wives tell US Congress of torture and trauma

Women whose husbands were targets of Communist party crackdown on human rights lawyers call for US sanctions

The wives of some of the most prominent victims of Xi Jinpings crackdown on civil society have stepped up their campaign for justice, backing calls for US sanctions against Chinese officials involved in allegedly barbaric cases of torture and abuse.

Addressing a congressional hearing in Washington on Thursday, the women, whose husbands were among the key targets of a Communist party offensive against human rights lawyers, detailed the physical and psychological trauma inflicted by Chinas so-called war on law.

Chen Guiqiu, who fled to the United States in March, told of how her husband, the attorney Xie Yang, had been imprisoned and brutally tortured because of his work defending victims of land grabs, religious persecution and dissidents.

She described her husbands ordeal as an example of Chinas lawlessness and claimed that at his recent trial Xie had been forced to refute detailed claims that he had been the victim of sustained and brutal campaign of torture.

Wang Yanfeng, the wife of Tang Jingling, a lawyer and democracy activist who was jailed in 2016 in what campaigners described as a gross injustice, said her husband had suffered repeated spells of abuse, threats and torture. Today other [lawyers and political prisoners] are still suffering from such torture, Wang said, calling on US president Donald Trump to challenge China over such abuses.

In a video message, Li Wenzu, the wife of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, said she had heard nothing from him since he was seized by police at the start of the campaign against lawyers in July 2015. I am deeply concerned about my husbands safety. I dont know how his health is. I dont know whether he has been left disabled by the torture. I dont even know whether he is alive.

Wang Qiaoling, whose husband, Li Heping, recently emerged from a 22-month stint in custody, said he returned home looking 20 years older and had told of being forced to sit for hours in stress positions and being shackled with chains. He suffered from very cruel and sick torture, Wang added.

Also giving testimony was Lee Chin-yu, whose husband, the Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che, vanished into Chinese custody in March after travelling to the mainland. I stand alone before you today to plead for your help for my husband, Lee said, calling on Washington to pressure China to end her husbands illegitimate detention.

Since Chinas crackdown on lawyers began almost two years ago, its victims wives have emerged as a relentless and forceful voice of opposition, often using humorous online videos and public performances to champion their cause. They say they have done so in defiance of a campaign of state-sponsored intimidation that has seen them trailed by undercover agents, struggle to enrol their children into schools or be evicted from their homes.

Terry Halliday, the author of a book about Chinas human rights lawyers, said the lawyers wives had opened up a new line of struggle that we have not seen before in China.

These women have become a very powerful and visible public presence both of criticism of the government, of appeals for the release of their loved-ones but also impugning China in the eyes of the world. It is remarkable.

Its a whole new front, Halliday added. It is not so easy for the government to silence wives and daughters.

Thursdays hearing was part of a push by human rights groups to convince the Trump administration to use a law called the Magnitsky Act to bring sanctions such as travel bans or property seizures against Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses.

We should be seeking to hold accountable any Chinese officials complicit in torture, human rights abuses and illegal detentions, said Chris Smith, the Republican congressman who chaired the session and said he was compiling a list of potential targets.

Smith said he hoped such action could help end the shocking, offensive, immoral, barbaric and inhumane treatment of Chinese activists that has accelerated since Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

While President Xi Jinping feels feted at Davos and lauded in national capitals for his public commitments to openness, his government is torturing and abusing those seeking rights guaranteed by Chinas own constitution, Smith said.

China has rejected claims of torture against the human rights lawyers it has imprisoned, dismissing such allegations as fake news.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/19/chinas-war-on-law-victims-wives-tell-us-congress-of-torture-and-trauma

‘I know he is alive’: wife of Taiwan activist seized by China pleads for release

Lee Ming-che has been detained by Beijing authorities amid a targeting of activists, dissidents and scholars based abroad

The wife of a Taiwanese human rights activist detained in China for over a month without charge has vowed to take her fight for justice to the US and European Union, urging them to pressure Beijing to release him.

It has now been 40 days since Lee Ching-yus partner, best friend and confidante suddenly disappeared while travelling to visit friends in Guangzhou, southern China.

Beijing, which views democratic Taiwan as a renegade province, admitted only after 10 days that Lee Ming-che, 42, a community college worker known for supporting human rights, had been detained for allegedly threatening national security.

He is feared to be the latest victim of an escalation in Chinas repression of rights and free speech.

It is only through international support that we can force a country that encroaches on human rights to stop this action, Lee Ching-yu told The Guardian in her first interview with the British press. She intends to seek help in Washington DC and Brussels next month.

Under standard Chinese criminal law, Lees husband should have been charged or released on Monday, after 37 days in custody.

Instead, her hopes of a speedy resolution were shattered on Wednesday when Chinas Taiwan affairs office announced that Lee was still under investigation, that his health was good, and that he has clearly explained the relevant situation to his family in a letter.

The letter, which contained scant information, was delivered in early April by an unofficial middleman Lee Ching-yu did not know whether to trust.

It was my husbands handwriting but he made no connection with me, she said. He did not write that letter voluntarily.

Lee, also 42, has struggled largely alone, with the support of a few local activists, to uncover the truth.

With little government support, she has fended off unidentified brokers offering help through unofficial channels.

One suggested her silence and inaction might buy her husbands freedom, or at least spare him the humiliation of a video confession. But Lee has refused to strike a backroom deal.

She is defiant but the strain of her ordeal has made her visibly more gaunt and she frequently fights back tears. I have to keep a strong face in front of the media, but when I see my husbands photo I get very emotional, she said.

The couple met at college 20 years ago and were drawn to each other through a shared passion for human rights.

Lee Ching-yu became a researcher at the Shin Ming-te foundation, studying the history of Taiwans own dark period of martial law, when thousands were disappeared. Her work both gives her strength and haunts her. I can imagine what my husband might have gone through, she said.

Lee Ming-che kept his human rights work low key. Supporters believe he may have been targeted after speaking openly on Chinese messaging service WeChat about Taiwanese democracy.

The values and beliefs that my husband holds and spreads would not be charged in any democratic or civilised country, said Lee.

She broke down describing how he had tried to help the poverty-stricken families of Chinese activists, imprisoned for their beliefs.

At least I know my husband is alive, she said. Others who disappear dont receive the same media attention and they might be in more danger. When I realise how severe the situation in China is, its hard to stay calm.

Lee has approached the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances for help.

Her husbands case has been complicated by Taiwans lack of international clout and by frozen diplomatic ties between Taipei and Beijing over Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wens refusal to endorse Chinas view that the self-governed island and mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.

Taiwans government maintains it is working behind the scenes to resolve Lees case, but local NGOs argue they could do more.

Mrs Lee is already standing so strongwe need support from the government, not only to just keep it low key, said E-Ling Chiu, head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

Many fear Lee may have fallen foul of a harsh new Chinese law to monitor and control foreign-funded NGOs, enforced earlier this year as part of a crackdown on civil society.

The environment for foreign and domestic human rights NGOs had become treacherous, said Maya Wang an Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

The case of Mr Lee fits within the greater pattern of a new trend of the Chinese government targeting activists, dissidents, or even scholars based abroad, she said. All of these cases deserve equal press and attention.

However, Lee may also have become a pawn in internal Chinese politics by factions opposed to President Xi Jinpings perceived mild approach to Taiwan, ventured Michael Cole, a Taipei-based political analyst.

It would be difficult for Xi to back down while demonstrating strength over Taiwan, he said. Equally, Tsai had to tread cautiously.

It would not serve Mr Lees interests if she came out guns blazing. Ultimately his case is part of something thats much bigger.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/28/wife-of-taiwan-activist-seized-china-pleads-for-release-lee-ming-che

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