Many people know Namibia only as the place where Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s twin girls were born a few years ago. Most of them don’t know that this Southern African country is also the site of the world’s bloodiest annual seal hunt.
The Skeleton Coast on Namibia’s rugged Atlantic coast is an inhospitable and arid area where some 700,000 Cape Fur Seals live in several colonies. Every year, the government sanctions the “harvesting” of thousands of these animals in a culling season that extends from July to November.
With an allowable cull of 400,000 seals, Canada’s annual cull may be larger on paper, but this year “only” 38,000 seals were slaughtered there, while about 85,000 pups and 6,000 bulls were killed on Namibia’s beaches.
At the government-owned Cape Cross Seal Reserve, the location of one of the world’s largest Cape Fur Seal colonies, the culling happens for an hour every morning during the culling season. Dozens of men club seals over the head and stab them in the heart. Once they’ve been left to “bleed out,” the pups are skinned and their furs sent to Turkey where they are turned into coats that retail for as much as $30,000. The penises of the killed seal bulls are sold as an aphrodisiac on Asian markets where they can fetch up to $500 each. Once the beach has been cleaned up after the morning’s operations, the reserve’s gates are opened to unsuspecting tourists.
Proponents of the annual cull – chiefly the Namibian government – consider it a legitimate endeavor. They claim that the harvest is necessary to control the seal population and protect local fish stocks. According to fisheries minister Bernhard Esau, Namibia’s Cape Fur Seals consume 900,000 tons of fish every year and represent a real threat to the livelihood of the country’s fisher folk. In addition, officials say, the operation provides valuable income for the country and employment for its people.
In arguing against the cull, several international conservation organizations claim that the underlying motivation is greed. Seal Alert SA considers the killing to be “unlawful, unsustainable and cruel, and in violation of the [Namibian] constitution and the international trade in endangered species convention.” While the Cape Fur Seal is not a threatened species, it has a Cites listing suggesting that it might become endangered.
Contrary to government assertions, Seal Alert SA estimates that the country’s seals are responsible for losses of less than 0.3% to commercial fisheries. The cull’s job creation potential is minimal and the reported annual revenue generated amounts to only $125,000, eight times less than earnings from eco-tourism.
Jason Bell-Leash, the director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, describes the cull as “cruel, wasteful and out of step with global sentiment that believes commercial sealing should end.” He believes that “Namibia can produce no rational justification – scientific or otherwise – for a hunt which is nothing more than a beach-side bloodbath.”
The Namibian government has vowed to continue its annual seal harvest next year.
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
Photo from: Stock.Xchng