- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - Twenty elephants exported to China would be “better off” in Chinese zoos rather than struggling wildlife parks in Zimbabwe, the southern African nation’s minister in charge of wildlife said on Monday, dismissing protests from animal rights groups.

“Those elephants have gone to world class zoos. They will get much better care but, of course, the lobbyists are always keen to ignore facts,” Minister of Environment Saviour Kasukuwere told The Associated Press.

Zimbabwe’s national parks are overpopulated and the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is struggling to raise money for conservation efforts, Kasukuwere said.

“There are ways of dealing with overpopulation such as culling, sell them to countries with proper habitats or do trophies. We have chosen a non-lethal way by exporting them,” said Kasukuwere.

The Zimbabwean government has ignored protests and pleas from dozens of animal rights groups to stop the sale of the elephants, the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s southern Africa office said in a statement.

“Unnecessarily seizing wild elephants for a lifetime in captivity is a violation of conservation principles and shows a blatant disregard for animal welfare,” the statement said.

Conservation groups protested the exports, saying they were concerned by how the animals were rounded up, with calves separated from their mothers. The protesting groups were also concerned about the conditions of the zoos the animals are destined for.

The elephants were sent over the weekend to a park in Guangzhou, a city in the south eastern province of Guangdong, about 130 kilometers (about 80 miles) from Hong Kong, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.

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