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Has COVID-19 saved the lives of nearly 100,000 Namibian seals?

August 11th, 2020
topic:Animal Cruelty
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Namibia, South Africa, Canada, Greenland
tags:COVID-19, hunting, over-fishing

The annual gory festival traditionally starts in July, but so far there is no indication that is has started, giving hope that the COVID-19 restrictions could be a blessing for the embattled aquatic mammals.

In Namibia, from the beginning of July to mid-November, some 80,000 to 85,000 Cape fur pups that are still on their mother’s milk are brutally clobbered to death with pick handles for their fur pelts. Another 6,000 adult bull seals are shot at point blank range so that their penises can be harvested for use in sex potions that are in very high demand in the Asian markets.

However thanks to the COVID-19 disruptions, this year things do not appear to be following this routine, raising hopes that the seal pups and bulls may escape the savage slaughter.

Savage killing operations

During this five-month hunting season, the Cape fur seal pups are subjected to daily assaults early in the morning. The operation starts 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 a small area on the beach reserves where they then club them on the head and stab them in the heart, in front of each other and in earshot of their mothers.

The assaults trigger pandemonium, causing mothers to abandon even those pups not separated from them by the clubbers. In addition to scattering the animals, these daily massacres cause untold stress for whole seal colonies, resulting in some of them seeking refuge in others far away areas. However as of late July this year these mass seal flights had not started, in a development that concerned conservationists say could be a sign that the secretive killing festival hasn’t started or hopefully could be off altogether this year.

COVID-lockdown in Namibia

“To tell you the honest truth: we do not know,” a local conservationist anonymously said in written answers to FairPlanet when contacted about this year’s seal hunting season. “In our experience, we normally see a lot more seals in our area where the seal harvest does not take place, because animals seek refuge there. This year, this has not happened yet… it (2020 hunt) might just be postponed. It usually does not get announced.”

Just like most African countries, Namibia is under a strict COVID-19 lockdown.

“Namibia is heavily affected by the lockdown situation, and many government agencies have simply closed down for the next few weeks,” the source added. “It could be that nobody is able to issue a permit for the cull, or that the sealers cannot get into the region because our region is the Corona hotspot of Namibia - we do not know.”

Pat Dickens, of Seals of Nam, a Namibian non-profit founded in 2010 with the goal of ending the country’s sealing industry also hoped the mass slaughter are off this year. “I am not sure (if the hunt is on this year) especially due to COVID,” Dickens wrote to FairPlanet.

Controlling over-population

Namibia, a former German colony (1884-1919) that later became mandated to South Africa by the League of Nations (1919-1990), has continued to ignore mounting global condemnation of the seal hunting practice, which it argues is not just a source of income, but also a way of reducing competition for fish on its part of the Atlantic coast.

Namibian authorities insist that the practice that is locally classified as ‘seal harvesting’ is meant to control over-population of these aquatic mammals, which they say pose a real 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

But activists dismiss this argument as hypocritical, saying the hunts are motivated more by desire for commercial gain than genuine ecological concerns. The critics also highlight that the financial benefits from seal hunting are small compared to what the country would get from global tourists coming for seal watching. 

A controversial Turkish national, Hatem Yavuz, the fashion mogul owner of the Hatem Yavuz Group who controls over 80 percent of the global seal products market, is the main concessionaire in the Namibia seal business.

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 is in South Africa and Angola. The latter two African states do not conduct seal hunts.
Cape fur seals are classified by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as endangered animal species, but this designation does stop the controlled hunting of the animals for economic gain.

Hunt illegal, immoral

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 are a result of lack of prey due to climatic changes and over-fishing.

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

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Namibia South Africa Canada Greenland
© Bont voor Dieren / Ecostorm. AP Archive
During this five-month hunting season, the Cape fur seal pups are subjected to daily assaults early in the morning.
In addition to scattering the animals, these daily massacres cause untold stress for whole seal colonies, resulting in some of them seeking refuge in others far away areas.