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HARARE - Wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe have defended selling two baby elephants and other animals to North Korea, and said veterinary experts sent to the Asian nation were satisfied it is suitably equipped to care for them.
The two 18-month-old elephants, in quarantine in holding pens in western Zimbabwe, were priced at $10 000 (R75000) each. Officials said the animal airlift also includes breeding pairs of giraffe, zebra, antelope, hyenas, monkeys and birds.
Conservationists say the elephants are unlikely to survive the trip by air separated from their mothers.
Vitalis Chadenga, head of the wildlife department, told reporters the deal was "purely a business arrangement" for cash-strapped Zimbabwe involving surplus species in the western Hwange National Park.
He said the animals were not a gift from President Robert Mugabe, a longtime ally of North Korea, as conservationists had claimed.
Chadenga said North Korea was paying for the animals as well as meeting the capture and translocation costs. No provisions of international law on trade in endangered species were breached, he said.
North Korean zoos were paying $900 (R6800) for a giraffe and $600 (R4500) for a zebra. The cheapest on the North Korean shopping list were a blue crane, a saddle-billed stork and a white pelican for $10 (R75) each.
Veterinary scientists verified "the appropriateness of the destination" and found conditions there were not detrimental to any of the species being exported next month.
"We have nothing to hide from the international community. The case has been politicized," Chadenga said.
The independent Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force has criticised the airlift.
"We understand North Korea does not have a good record in animal rights," Johnny Rodrigues, head of the task force, said. - Sapa-AP