Persistent droughts intensify the struggle for habitat between humans and animals in South Africa. Namibia has found a solution that is driving animal rights activists crazy internationally.
Windhoek – plenty of desert, little water – and plenty of elephants: South Africa’s neighbor Namibia, like neighboring Botswana, has been a leader in animal protection for decades.
However, dramatic droughts in recent years have led to an ever-increasing race for valuable living space in the desert state among the population and wild animals.
Elephants sometimes trample fences or cause other damage in search of water. At worst, they endanger the local population living in rural areas. So the government in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, started selling wild jumbo last year, which is now also being exported abroad. The gray giants of Africa as a blow to export – cause international discontent.
Selling elephants to safari park near Dubai
Animal protection organization Pro Wildlife has criticized the fact that the Namibian government has agreed to export 22 previously free-roaming elephants to a safari park near Dubai. “It is incomprehensible why Namibia is risking its international reputation with a questionable deal,” says Daniela Fryer of Pro Wildlife. The biologist considers the justifications of Namibia a “thimble”. According to their information, the government sold the fruits at auction for about $10,000 per animal to buyers in Namibia. Then a broker sold them to the safari park for a higher price.
According to estimates, about 23,000 elephants currently live in sparsely populated Namibia with approximately 2.5 million inhabitants – a significant increase over previous years. This leads to greater problems between humans and animals. The same applies to neighboring Botswana. While the elephant population is declining in many regions of Africa, according to official figures, it has risen in the landlocked country from about 50,000 in 1991 to 130,000 animals – which is roughly a third of Africa’s elephants.
Refusal to auction off hunting licenses
Animal rights activists also denounced the auction of hunting licenses for 70 prairie eels in Botswana. The Department of National Parks responsible there confirmed that hunting licenses were approved only for controlled hunting areas. In addition, only Botswana companies are entitled to participate – but they can shoot elephants and then sell them to international companies.
“Challenge scavenging for elephants is not a solution to human-elephant conflict, in fact it exacerbates it, and there are not many elephants in Botswana,” says Michelle Pickover of the South African-based EMS Animal Welfare Foundation.
In Namibia, the environment ministry sold 57 elephants at auction to private buyers last year, of which only 15 remain in the country, according to animal welfare organization Ifaw. The government argued that it wanted to reduce the number of femurs and at the same time use the proceeds to alleviate conflicts between the population and the elephants. The Namibian economy has had to adapt to a downturn due to devastating droughts and the coronavirus pandemic.
Controversial interpretation of species protection conventions
“Capturing wild elephants for life in captivity in parks and zoos is not only cruel, but the export also violates international regulations to protect species,” Fryer complained. Wild African elephants are already protected under the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Its provisions expressly state to Namibia that elephants may only be exported to conservation projects within Africa.
But Namibia is invoking a legal interpretation of regulations to justify moving wild-caught elephants in captivity outside their natural range, according to the Swiss Franz Weber Foundation — a highly controversial interpretation, the foundation says.
The Namibian Hunters Association (NAPHA) sees it differently: “The whole controversy is superfluous from a scientific and legal point of view, it is an emotional brawl incited and fueled by animal protection groups,” he said in a statement. Animal protection groups are not sensitive to local communities and their rights.
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