Export of 42 wild Namibian elephants might be illegal, conservationists say

Elephants in Namibia, photo: Bernd Dittrich on Unsplash
Elephants in Namibia, photo: Bernd Dittrich on Unsplash

International conservationists and wildlife experts describe the export of 42 wild elephants from Namibia as possibly illegal. 

In a press release, animal welfare organizations said Namibia’s elephant exports violate the international rules in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Humane Society International, the Franz Weber Foundation, Born Free Foundation and five other organizations have asked Namibian authorities to halt their elephant exports immediately. 

In a letter, the organizations also asked the CITES secretariat to withdraw any statement that appears to endorse Namibia’s elephant export intentions.

“The Namibian government declared in August that it had auctioned 57 elephants to three undisclosed bidders for a total of less than 400,000 USD and would export 42 of them,” said Vera Weber, the president of the Franz Weber foundation. 

“Although we still do not know the identity of the buyers, it is highly likely that Namibia intends to export the animals to foreign zoos, which would mean a lifetime of captivity for the exported animals, and a possible collapse of the fragile desert-adapted elephant population in Namibia,” Weber said. 

In January, Namibia said it would sell 170 elephants to reduce confrontations with humans and control the rising elephant population.

But the animal welfare organization said that very few elephants are present in the targeted Kunene Region. Elephant populations in this area are already threatened from drought, high infant mortality and the very low number of remaining adult bulls, they said.

Namibia sets dangerous example
The capture and export of Namibian elephants should be halted immediately for legal and ethical reasons, the organizations said.

Namibia is “only allowed to export live elephants to conservation programs inside of Africa, according to the terms of the listing of their elephant population under CITES.”

The experts said that “Namibia uses a contested legal interpretation of these terms to justify sending wild, live-caught elephants to captive facilities outside of their natural range. This interpretation is highly controversial and sets a dangerous precedent for the future protection of wild elephants from the impact of international trade.”

Dr Mark Jones, head of policy with the Born Free Foundation, said Namibia’s interpretation of the wildlife export rules was “dubious” in that it created “a loophole that suits their purpose”.

Jones added that the rules “regarding the export of live elephants from Namibia, by any rational reading, could not be clearer. To suggest otherwise is dangerously disingenuous. These proposed exports must be halted.”

Capture is cruel
“African elephants are intelligent, sentient animals with highly developed emotional complexity, and strong social and family bonds that last a lifetime,” said Jeff Flocken, Humane Society International president. 

“It is unconscionable cruelty to subject these animals to brutal and traumatic capture, separating them from their families and condemning them to lifelong captivity for the sake of human amusement,” he added.

The press release was signed by the Animal Welfare Institute, the Born Free Foundation, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, the Fondation Franz Weber, Humane Society International, Pro Wildlife, Robin des Bois and the Species Survival Network.

Contacted for comment by The Animal Reader, the press relations spokesperson for the Namibian ministry of environment, forestry and tourism did not immediately respond.

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