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A Baby Elephant Kidnapped By Zimbabwe's Government Just Died

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One of the 36 elephants captured by the Zimbabwean government in early December has already died, according to a nonprofit organization monitoring the situation.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force reported the news on its Facebook page, adding that the animal's "meat was shared out between the people" at the stockade where the elephant was being kept.

Even before the death was announced, animal rights groups had begun to take a stand. In a letter, Adam M. Roberts, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, had warned that the stolen animals were likely to experience extreme stress, an increased risk of disease and early death.

Removing these pachyderms from the wild also severs social ties and has "serious implications for both animal welfare and conservation," Roberts noted in the letter, which was addressed to Saviour Kasukuwere, Zimbabwe's environmental minister.

(joepyrek/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Officials with the Zimbabwean government took the 36 elephants - originally thought to be 34 - along with seven lion cubs and 10 antelope from Hwange National Park in December. It was rumored that the animals may end up in a Chinese zoo, but Kasukuwere told the Telegraph that they would be sent to the United Arab Emirates, and that such roundups happen "from time to time."

(joepyrek/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

In captivity, elephants are prone to obesity and infertility, as well as mental anguish. Roberts cited a 2008 study of 77 captive elephants in the U.K. Though keepers were "highly skilled at detecting health issues such as injuries and disease," three-fourths of the elephants were overweight and half showed stereotypical behavior like repetitive pacing.

(joepyrek/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

It's uncertain whether the elephants will end up in China or the UAE, but when it comes to the wildlife trade, the reputation of both countries is, broadly speaking, much different than the U.K.'s. Private owners in the UAE collect lions like Lamborghinis. Chinese demand for ivory is putting unsustainable pressure on wild elephants. And of four live elephant calves shipped to China from Zimbabwe in 2012, Roberts pointed out that only one is believed to still be alive.