Zimbabwe has raised more than half a million pounds in the sale of 24 elephant calves to China.

The funds are claimed to be meant for conservation. The export move is a solution the government sees to what it calls an overpopulation of elephants that has led to conflicts with human settlements.

Animal activists and conservation groups have been angered over the shipping of the calves on 5 July. Various groups have described the displacement of the young calves not still weaned as cruel and against animal welfare.

The elephants were sold for around £26,000 ($40,000) each after being separated from their families and captured from the Hwange national park in 2014.

They will be held in captivity at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, southern China, home to 20,000 rare animal.

"The conditions in which these animals were exported are extremely cruel," and we condemn the whole idea of separating baby elephants from their mothers," said Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the animal rights group Conservation Task Force.

The task force saw the elephant export to China as "being sentenced to a life of inhuman treatment".

Elephants don't forget and this is very dangerous for future visitors to Hwange, the task force warned.

China has also ordered for 30 lions.

Defending the government move, Zimbabwe's environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere said the export was nothing irregular but a part of elephant conservation.

"There are ways of dealing with overpopulation such as culling, sell them to countries with proper habitats or do trophies. We have chosen a non-lethal way by exporting them," Kasukuwere told AP.

Zimbabwe is home to 80,000 elephants but can handle only 42,000, says the government.
But Rodrigues insists the numbers are overestimated.

Culling of elephants in many parts of Africa was reintroduced after a brief ban in 1995. Studies have shown that culling of adults left the elephant society severely limited in decision making and led to stress disorders.

The elephants have been accused of destroying vegetation in the Hwange national park and damaging the crops of neighbouring communities.

High levels of poaching saw 300 elephants being killed in 2014 in the Hwange national park after poachers poisoned watering holes.

Zimbabwe shipped five black rhinos to Botswana recently.

However, not everyone is satisfied that export is the solution. The International Fund for Animal Welfare's southern Africa office said in a statement: "Unnecessarily seizing wild elephants for a lifetime in captivity is a violation of conservation principles and shows a blatant disregard for animal welfare."