This Wednesday, March 9, on the occasion of a summit organized in Lyon on the international treaty governing wildlife trade, many countries spoke out against Namibia over the sale and export of 22 wild African elephants.
Namibia estimates that the country has a population of more than 24,000 elephants and that capture is crucial both to reduce the number of life-threatening encounters with humans and to provide funding for the conservation and management of wildlife. According to the data sent to national geography by the Namibian government, three people were reported killed by elephants in 2021, and many crops were damaged in recent years.
Several countries, including the United Kingdom, have raised a number of issues concerning the country’s exports of elephants, which appear to violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In fact, the Treaty stipulates that the export of elephants from African countries such as Namibia to a country where these animals do not live or have never lived in the wild is strictly prohibited unless there is a proven conservation benefit for the species.
Last year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature added savannah elephants to the species category In dangerand forest elephants to the species critically endangered. Decades of ivory poaching have had dire consequences for this animal, as only 400,000 elephants still live in the wild across the African continent.
In December 2020, Namibia auctioned 57 wild elephants to three different bidders. Fifteen specimens were sent to a Namibian nature reserve and all the others were sold to foreign buyers.
On February 15, the Namibian government told national geography that he could not release details of the elephants’ destinations until “the process is complete”. 20 elephants still need to be exported in order for the country to meet its final obligations.
Namibia has not yet announced or confirmed the elephants’ destinations and says whether this information should be released or not will be up to the buyers. This week, however, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) confirmed in a statement that one of its members, Al Ain Zoo in the United Arab Emirates, had purchased some of these elephants. The organization claimed in an email sent to national geography that: “at the moment we have no information on the number of elephants and whether they have arrived at their destination or not”.
The original auction announcement specified that bidders themselves would provide the logistical details of the capture and export of elephants, including newborns and juveniles, and that they would ensure that they did not separate families.
WHERE ARE THESE ELEPHANTS GOED?
This Tuesday, WAZA supported national geography that it was against their ethical rules and animal welfare to capture wild animals “unless it is actually necessary for conservation breeding programs, educational programs or basic biological studies”. The association says it is investigating to determine if such a situation has arisen, which, if it does, could result in expulsion from WAZA Zoo.
No representative of Al Ain Zoo, United Arab Emirates or CITES responded to the request for national geography to take a position on the country or countries of destination. The Namibian government has refused to reveal the identity of the buyers.
During the March 9 meeting in Lyon, British CITES representatives demanded “full explanations” to justify how exports from Namibia could comply with the treaty. They also asked how the United Arab Emirates could prove that the purchased elephants would not be used for commercial purposes and what could be the benefits of these exports to conserve the species.
Burkina Faso and Senegal in particular have condemned these international sales. The Burkinabe representative said he “regretted” these exports.
The Namibian representative replied that he would “point out that we have been very transparent about this sale. We have nothing to hide. He added that Namibia had only applied for export permits for elephants when they were sure that all national laws and CITES requirements were met.
The CITES Secretariat, based in Geneva, took no immediate action against Namibia and asked members to raise any concerns that may arise in this matter in the future. “CITES parties have agreed on mechanisms to deal with any non-compliance issues that would cause a country to break trade rules,” a CITES spokesman said in a statement to national geography. “Any concerns about this will be brought to the attention of the CITES Standing Committee”, which will assess the overall compliance with the Convention.
On Tuesday, Romeo Muyunda, spokesman for the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, declined to respond to requests for comment from national geography but confirmed that the elephants had arrived at their destination. On March 6, the ministry revealed in a statement that one of the elephants was not feeling very well, but has since given no further updates on her condition.
At least two elephants were born while the twenty-two animals were waiting to be exported, but no information has been released on the welfare of these newborns.