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COVID-19 continues to save Namibian Seals

November 04, 2021
topic:Hunting & Poaching
tags:#Africa, #COVID-19, #seal hunting
by:Cyril Zenda
For a second year running, the brutal slaughter of Cape fur seal pups in Namibia has been put on hold, raising hopes among conservationists that the controversial practice may be dying away.

Every year in Namibia, some 80,000 to 85,000 Cape fur seal pups that still depend on their mother’s milk are mercilessly clobbered to death with pick handles for their fur pelts.

Another 6,000 adult bull seals are shot at close range for their penises that are in huge demand in the Asian markets where they are used in sex potions.

But since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has triggered repeated and extended lockdowns globally, this gory festival has not taken place in the southern African country for the second year, and only a few bull seals were reportedly killed last year. 

Conservationists are Hopeful

With no sign of the brutal slaughter taking place by the end of September - three months into the hunting season - wildlife conservationists and environmentalists in Namibia were keeping their fingers crossed, praying that more seal pups and bulls may escape the massacre again this year. 

One Namibian conservationist told FairPlanet that from what they have gathered, seal bulls - whose genitals have a thriving market in China and other Asian markets - might be targeted this year. 

"There is an application, and as far as we know it has been approved, but so far [hunting] has not started," the conservationist anonymously told FairPlanet in written answers. 

“We will know immediately, because there is a sudden increase in seals in our area because the animals try to get away," they went on. "It looks like only seal bulls will be targeted again, very much like last year, mainly for the Eastern export market for seal genitalia."

The conservationist, however, could not say how many seal bulls were killed last year. "We are not sure how many animals they killed last year, they were allowed to kill 6,000 bulls, but they did not get near that number because they started very late in the year and they had to stop as soon as the first pups were born."

Hatem Yavuz, a Turkish national and the fashion mogul owner of the Hatem Yavuz Group which controls over 80 percent of the global seal products market, is the primary concessionaire in the Namibia seal business. 

Savage Killing Operations

During this five-month hunting season that runs from July to mid-November, the Cape fur seal pups are subjected to daily assaults early in the morning.

The operations begin with clubbers raiding the seal reserves of Atlas Bay, Wolf Bay and Cape Cross, to separate nursing pups from their mothers, before corralling them into small areas on the beach reserves where they then club them on the head and stab them in the heart, in front of each other and within earshot of their mothers. 

The assaults cause pandemonium that force mothers to abandon even those pups not separated from them by the clubbers. In addition to scattering the animals, these daily massacres cause immense stress for whole seal colonies, resulting in some of them fleeing to distant locations. 

A Struggling Industry

Reports from Namibia paint a gloomy picture of the sealing industry, with reports of shareholders of one of the seal factories complaining that the government has been reluctant to increase their quota to make the business viable, while the ban of seal products in Europe has made the business less lucrative as it has left them primarily with the Asian market for bull seal genitalia. 

The Seals of Nam, a Namibian non-profit founded in 2010 with the goal of ending the country’s sealing industry, celebrated the misfortunes of the industry in a social media post. “Public pressure, a lack of demand, increased operating costs [...] seal slaughter factory dying a slow death. Our global outcry has been heard. Our outrage is now being felt. Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of people who have supported our cause!”

The reluctance of the Namibian government to review seal hunting quotas upwards, coupled with the ever-shrinking markets for seal products, gives hope to conservationists that their efforts are on the cusp of bearing fruit.

Curbing Over-population?

Namibia has continued to face mounting global condemnation over its seal hunting practice, which it argues is not just a source of badly needed income, but also a way of reducing competition for fish on its part of the Atlantic coast.

The Windhoek authorities insist that the practice - locally classified as ‘seal harvesting’ - is actually a way of managing the population of these aquatic mammals, which they say pose a threat to the country’s lucrative fishing industry.

“Namibia’s seal population has increased to the point where they exceeded by far the carrying capacity of the environment [...] therefore it is humane to curb the unrestrained seal population to a level where they can be sustained by the environment,” the government said previously in a statement.

Mounting Global Condemnation

Conservationists, however, dismiss this argument as hypocritical, saying the hunts are motivated more by desire for commercial gain than by sincere ecological concerns.

The critics also highlight the fact that the financial benefits from seal hunting are small compared to what the country would gain from global tourists coming for seal watching. 

Cape fur seals are found on the south-western coast of Africa, with Namibia having half of their estimated 1.5 million to 2 million population while the remainder lives in South Africa and Angola. The latter two African states do not conduct seal hunts. 

These Cape fur seals are classified by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as an endangered animal species, but this designation does stop the controlled hunting of the animals for economic gain. 

an Illegal And Immoral Practice

According to Seal Protection Namibia, a non-governmental organisation seeking a ban on seal hunting on the grounds that it is illegal and immoral, Cape fur seals experience a natural mortality rate of about 30 percent.

In addition, these seals have suffered several mass die-offs that have decimated the population. The organisation says these die-offs resulted from lack of prey due to climatic change and over-fishing.

Namibia, Canada and Greenland are the only remaining countries where seals are harvested commercially. More than 35 countries that include the United States, some European Union member states and Taiwan have now banned products from commercial seal hunts, but flourishing markets are still available in China and other Asian countries.

Too Early To Celebrate

While some conservationists, such as those at the Seal of Nam, are already rejoicing over the misfortunes of the seal industry, others are cautious.

“We are very much in two minds how we should approach this practice, but as long as nothing is happening, we have decided to keep quiet and not stir the pot,” one conservationist told FairPlanet. “People can be very irrational and we don’t want somebody to come forward and kill seals just to show us that we are wrong and they are right. We are keeping an eye on it, and we will communicate any changes immediately via social media.”

Another conservationist added: “The sealing industry has taken a big knock because of Covid and there is genuine hope that this industry is simply no longer viable, which would be the best option, because I do not see any other way how to stop this horrible and inhumane practice.” 

Toast Seagers, a South African-based wildlife conservationist, said that the pressure should remain consistent. “[It is] quite frustrating how there will be a short outcry every year but nothing changes,” Seagers told FairPlanet.

Image by Harshil Gudka

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Embed from Getty Images
Fur seals rest at Isla de Lobos island. A slaughterhouse operated in the island until 1991, and since then it has been the main reserve in South America to fur seals (Arctocephalus australis) and sea lions.
Embed from Getty Images
Sea lions in Simon's Town, Cape Town, Cape Peninsula, Western Cape, South Africa.
© Frédéric Soltan/Corbis via Getty Images
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