Namibia defends export of 22 elephants to UAE zoo

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Namibia has defended its decision to ship elephants to the UAE.
Namibia has defended its decision to ship elephants to the UAE.
  • The Namibian government has defended its sale of 22 wild elephants to a zoo in the United Arab Emirates.
  • Namibia said the sale was above board.
  • The government confirmed it sold the elephants to a farmer who then sold them to two zoos in the UAE.

The Namibian government says the export of 22 elephants to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was above board and fully complied with existing regulations.

Namibian Environment, Forestry, and Tourism (MEFT) Minister Teofilus Nghitila was addressing journalists on the sidelines of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) currently underway in Lyon, France.

"These live sales of these African elephants fulfil Article Three of the CITES, and making reference to that article, it set procedures that need to be followed and the responsible authority have to cross check and also in consultation with the CITES Secretariat, that that requirement is fulfilled. So, we have not received any opposition for the CITES at this stage and that means the condition is fulfilled," said Nghitila.

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Article Three of the CITES Convention deals with regulations to prevent or restrict the exploitation, of endangered animals.

During a plenary session on the Namibian elephants, there were divergent views about the trade.

As such, CITES recommended that the issue be dealt with in Panama this November at the 19th Conference of the Parties to CITES (COP 19). Every two to three years, COP meets to review the implementation of the CITES convention. 

But Elizabeth Margaret Steyn from the animal welfare group, the EMS Foundation, noted that in Geneva, 2019, "a historic vote (by) 46 governments supported the African Elephant Coalition’s proposal to end the barbaric trade in live elephants to unnatural destination".

The Namibian government's line of argument is that it sold the elephants to reduce human-elephant conflicts, particularly in areas where land use is for livestock farming and human settlement.

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Dr Keith Lindsay, an expert in elephant biology, said this justification by the government did not stand up.

"Of major concern are the extremely low numbers of breeding bulls and high infant mortality rate (100% since 2014) of the population in this area of the Kunene Region.

"The MEFT’s plan to remove live elephants from this specific area runs counter to the conservation of this sub-population. And since the elephant population numbers are so low, incidences of human-elephant conflict (HEC) are correspondingly low, far lower than other parts of Namibia, especially in the northeast, where elephants roam across international borders," he said.

One of the bidders, the Naankuse Foundation reached out to News24, saying that the 15 elephants they had bought from Omatjete were translocated to their private reserve covering 33 000 hectares, and were not exported.

But it is the successful bid by farmer Gerrie Odendaal who bought elephants and resold them to two safari parks in the UAE that drew an outcry from animal rights activists.

Selling the animals to zoos is in direct violation of the CITES amendment of 2019 that stopped the sale of elephants from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia to destinations where the animals won't live in the wild. 

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In selling to Odendaal, who then sold to zoos in the UAE, critics say the government acted against, its usual rhetoric that it commercialises wildlife for poverty upliftment of rural communities. 

"This export implies a lucrative transaction that only benefits an already prosperous white Namibian landowner," said Donald Lehr from the African Elephant Coalition (AEC).

Namibia has an estimated elephant population of 24 000. According to CITES, since 1996, Namibian elephants have been classified under Appendix two - which means they are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but trade must be controlled to avoid selling them to conditions not compatible with their survival. In this case zoos.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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