Challenging Death on the Beaches of Namibia July 26, 2011 2:43 PM
Report by Captain Paul Watson
Cape fur seals on the Cape Cross Seal ReserveIts not often that a small conservation organization gets accused of being a threat to the national security of an entire nation. My crew has just safely returned to South Africa from completing Operation Desert Seal, Sea Shepherd Conservation Societys covert mission in Namibia. I met up with them on Friday, July 22 in Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
Our mission was to document and expose the horrific slaughter of seal pups along the windy and chilly desert beaches of Africas southwestern shores. I must add that it is difficult being covert these days, especially when our television show, Whale Wars, appears to be so popular, even in southern Africa. My role was to do on-site interviews at the Cape Cross Seal Reserve the day that the seal pup slaughter was to begin. I did the interviews as planned, but there wasnt a sealer in sight. Apparently, quite a few people had recognized me, and word was out that Sea Shepherd was on the Namibian coast.
As a result, the seal clubbers were told to stay away from the beach, and the killing was delayed. However, that respite only lasted for five days. During this time, our rented house was raided by burglars, despite the fact that a female crewmember was inside the house at the time. She managed to flee, but later returned with other crewmembers to find broken cameras and missing passports, laptops, and money. A gang of sealers at Henties Bay also assaulted some of our crew, including campaign leader Steve Roest. Steve came out of a store to find another crewmember surrounded by a group of angry men yelling in her face. She managed to keep her cool as Steve calmly got into the car and they both drove away to safety.
Crewmembers prepare for mission in the cover of the nightOur cover was blown and we were forced to do a feigned retreat, and for that to look credible I had to leave the country. I did so with the Namibian secret police tailing me through the desert to the airport in Windhoek, while the rest of the crew scattered into pre-arranged groups to continue the mission.
This was my first visit to the Cape fur seal colony in Namibia where the international seal skin trader, Hatem Yavuz, an Australian resident and Turkish citizen, operates what is now the largest slaughter of seals on the planet, killing more than 90,000 seals each year.
It was a wonderful experience to be amongst so many pinnipeds and in the largest seal rookery that I have ever seen. The seal pups were adorable, and the social inter-relationships between the mother seals and their pups was fascinating. But, watching the baby seals playfully frolicking with each other while I knew they would be viciously clubbed within days was heartbreaking. The Namibian tourist industry knows this too, as Cape Cross is not only a seal reserve, it is ironically one of the major tourist attractions in Namibia and brings in far more revenue to the coastal communities than the seal slaughter.
However, the problem remains that this is not primarily a tourist destination, but instead the site of mass slaughter. The seal clubbers smash the skulls of pups in the early morning hours, and immediately after they finish the gruesome work, a bulldozer drives onto the beach and covers the freshly bloodied sand. Only then, with the truth literally and figuratively buried in the sand, are the tourists allowed into the reserve to observe the beautiful and peaceful spectacle of the Cape fur seals in their natural habitat.
So why does this go on? Because people like Hatem Yavuz manage to keep sealing concessions in Namibia through bribes to government officials and police. This entire hunt is illegal and survives only because of blatant corruption involving Namibian politicians, bureaucrats, police, and now, the military.
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