Harare - Three young elephants initially captured in western Zimbabwe for export to China have been taken to an elephant orphanage in Harare, a wildlife group claimed on Sunday.
The three - two males and a female - were left behind when 24 calves were controversially shipped to China last weekend.
Wildlife At Risk International (WAR) said in a statement the three all had injuries sustained before they were captured at the end of last year.
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"A tail is missing, part of a trunk gone, all injuries sustained while still free in the wild," the group said.
The Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery announced on Saturday it had taken in three calves, though it did not say where the elephants came from. But the description of the new elephants now being sheltered by the orphanage matches the description of the rescued calves given by WAR.
'Calm and well'
The orphanage said in a post to Facebook that the animals are "calm and well" and will be rehabilitated before being released back into the wild.
News that the three elephants are now safe in an orphanage has been greeted with delight by animal lovers.
One reader posted to WAR's Facebook page: "Out of tragedy comes a small ray of light. This is the best news since this whole terrible nightmare started."
"So glad these babies are safe," wrote another.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has said in a statement that the 24 elephants sent to Chimelong Safari Park in Guangdong Province last weekend had travelled under "valid and authentic" export permits.
The CITES secretariat said it had received assurances that the exported calves will be kept "in a free range setting" and won't be used in circus-type performances.
But the park they will live in is tiny in comparison to the vast Hwange National Park they come from, measuring only 1.3km2, it has emerged.
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President Robert Mugabe's government said Zimbabwe's current elephant population is far too large at around 80 000, and that it needed the money it can raise from the sale of elephants to fund anti-poaching activities back home.
Activists in Zimbabwe have vowed to fight against any future shipment of elephants. "This selling of national assets and heritage is not going to go away – all signs are that it will become much, much worse," said a bulletin from a group calling itself Concerned Citizens Lobbying Against the Capture of Zimbabwe's Wild Animals.