CAMBODIA is considering donating an elephant to a South Korean zoo that is short of fertile females, officials confirmed Monday. But conservationists are also alarmed at the prospect of sending a member of an already endangered species out of the country.
South Korean authorities have requested that Cambodia donate fertile females between the ages of 5 and 7 for breeding purposes, said Ty Sokhun, director of forestry and wildlife with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
But Ty Sokhun said authorities are unsure whether they can afford to spare such young specimens. Instead, Cambodia is considering donating a single, 20-year-old female elephant.
“Currently, we are considering their offer and discussing it,” Ty Sokhun said.
Though the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, prevents signatories from trading in endangered species, Cambodia views the potential transfer as a “donation”, Ty Sokhun said.
“It is not an elephant trade, but a donation, as the Korean government has requested it for their national zoo,” he said.
But Tuy Sariwathna, the Mondulkiri province director for the conservation NGO Fauna and Flora International, said he was concerned by the proposal.
“The government should not respond to the Korean request while elephants in Cambodia are endangered,” he said.
Tuy Sariwathna said a 2009 survey found only 98 domesticated elephants in the country, down from a previous count of 162. He said rough estimates have suggested that there are between 500 and 600 elephants in the wild.
Nhek Ratanapech, director of the Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Centre outside Phnom Penh, said authorities were still debating the Korean proposal.
“We are considering cooperating with the Korean government because of our close ties with their national zoo, but we also think about the negatives,” Nhek Ratanapech said.
In a story last week, Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily reported that female elephants in Korean zoos have grown too old to give birth.
“It will be a serious problem if elephants disappear from the zoos because they’re the most beloved animals among children,” Lee Hyeon-ho, an official at a state-run zoo, told the newspaper.
Female Asian elephants usually first give birth around the age of 15, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which lists the species as endangered.