In the past decade, elephants throughout Africa have been disappearing at an alarming rate, with some 30,000 killed each year to fuel the ivory trade. But now, elephants in Zimbabwe, a country hard hit by poachers, have more to fear than illegal hunting.
On Thursday the country's government admitted that they had captured baby elephants, claiming the animals would be sent to the United Arab Emirates, where exotics are in high demand.
The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, an NGO focused on wildlife preservation, last week reported that 34 elephants - along with several other animals - had been kidnapped from their parents in Hwange National Park and would be exported overseas.
"Our investigators have seen the animals and tried to take photos but were not allowed. The security there is very tight," the group wrote in a statement.
Despite the Zimbabwean government's claim that the animals were destined for the UAE, the task force reported that the elephants would be shipped to China.
It wouldn't be the first time that elephants have been shipped abroad. Three calves were captured and shipped from Zimbabwe to China in 2013, where one died from weather exposure and the remaining two fell ill.
"Why is Zimbabwe stealing from the future generation's natural resources?" the task force wrote in the statement. "The baby elephants quite likely won't survive the trip and the only crime they have committed is being born in Zimbabwe."
Zimbabwe's environment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, told the Telegraph that capturing elephants for export was a normal thing to do "from time to time."
Colin Gilles, from the group Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe, told the paper that the government's decision to kidnap and export the elephants was likely to help ease financial woes. "We know capture of wildlife is happening for sale as the country is so desperately broke," he said.
The threat of being rounded up to be shipped abroad only compounds existing perils faced by Zimbabwe's elephants. Last year, the country was host to one of the deadliest poaching incidents on record, in which more than 300 elephants succumbed to poisoning after poachers contaminated a watering hole with cyanide.
Groups like the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force were originally established to help alleviate these threats on the nation's wildlife, but given the government's recent admissions, there may be an even more powerful element to fight against. The group, however, has vowed to not shy away:
"We have to try and stop this export from taking place."