Namibia’s environmental authorities confirm that they have issued the necessary CITES (Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species) export permit for the sale of five wild elephant calves by Eden Game Farm in the Grootfontein district to a zoo in Dubai.
Namibia’s elephants are listed on CITES Appendix ll, with a restrictive annotation which limits the sale of live elephants to in situ conservation projects.
“By sanctioning this sale they are undermining this agreement. The proposed transfer to a zoo in Dubai clearly fails to respect this restriction, so it would appear that such a sale would be in breach of the annotation, and therefore might fall foul of international rules,” says a letter addressed to the CITES Secretariat by elephant expert, Michele Pickover.
According to Namibia’s environmental department the elephant export is allowed under CITES, regulations as long as the trade doesn’t threaten the long term survival of the species and will not be primarily for commercial purposes.
But elephant specialists disagree: “With their elephant population listed under CITES Appendix II, their attempt to possibly exploit the text stipulated by the annotation and restrictions regarding live trade of elephants under this listing is unacceptable and must be challenged,” says Humane Society International’s Audrey Delsink.
“If approved, this sets a dangerous precedent; both in how elephants are managed and how international treaties may be manipulated, and must be rectified."
Pickover has also urged the secretariat to confirm the legal parameters of Namibia’s trade in elephants: “Can the Secretariat confirm that the intention of the annotation attached to the Appendix II listing for Namibia’s elephants is to restrict ALL live elephant exports from Namibia to bona fide in situ conservation projects, and NOT to allow exports that are clearly commercial in nature, serve no conservation purpose, and come with serious potential implications for the welfare of the animals concerned.”
According to Namibian officials, the chosen five elephants - ranging between the ages of 4 and 8 years-old - will be captured and removed from their mothers before being isolated and “tamed” for translocation to the zoo.
The capturing of wild elephants has been globally condemned, as there is no conservation value in displaying wild caught animals in captivity. The practice is both cruel and unethical.
These concerns are recognised in South Africa’s Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants, which specifically prohibit the capture of wild elephants to be kept in permanent captivity.
“The sales of wild elephants can create a perverse financial incentive for other countries to engage in poor conservation practices, disguising the sales as conservation, wildlife management, or as ‘rescues.’” says one report on the capture of wild elephants for zoos.
Research has shown that elephants are highly sentient beings which are extremely dependent on family bonds and do not thrive in captivity. The removal of calves from their mothers is highly traumatic causing severe depression and health implications.
“There is a critical mass of evidence to show that wild-caught elephants do not fare well in captivity,” argues Pickover. “These young elephants will still be highly dependent on their mothers and family groups, and their removal will cause huge stress and anxiety for them and the remaining family members”.