IT’s clubbing season and the blood of thousands of seals and their pups is painting the mainland of Namibia crimson. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age, clubbing continues to take place across the world, including in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Namibia, which is home to the world’s largest hunt.
Unlike the seals targeted by the commercial Canadian seal massacre, the Namibian seal has much greater locomotive abilities. These seals will attempt to flee and can move almost as fast as a man, even over rough terrain. When they are being beaten to death, they take evasive action. Several blows are typically landed before the animal is rendered dead or unconscious. Since the EU and Russia have banned the import of Canadian skins, the Namibian seal ‘cull’ has become the largest slaughter of wildlife on earth. It is for these reasons that the Namibian hunt is considered the most brutal of all seal hunts. “Seals are not ‘culled’ in Namibia – culling is done for conservation purposes. Rather, they are harvested – killed for financial gain,” explains Nikki Botha of Fur Free’s Seal project.
Established in 2009, Fur Free South Africa is a local non-profit organisation dedicated to the elimination of fur farming and the fur trade worldwide. They are also affiliated to the global International Anti-Fur Coalition.“Each year, up to 85 000 baby seals are killed in Namibia to make just a few dollars from their furs. Terrified pups are rounded up, separated from their mothers, and violently beaten to death. An additional 6 000 bull seals are killed for their genitalia (thought to be an aphrodisiac in some cultures). Most of this is exported ultimately to Asia. “Namibia is the only country in the world to kill nursing pups. The moment they stop nursing they start to mottle and the fur loses value. Pups are supposedly killed when they are seven months old, but there have been numerous instances where they are killed much younger. “The seals are bludgeoned to death by men wielding wooden clubs (usually pick axe handles). The carcasses are then loaded onto trucks and taken for processing in the factories of seven commercial licence holders.
The killing is done by seasonal workers who are paid a pittance, but the rights to kill are given to concessionaries by the government. There used to be three concessionaires, but the government has increased the permits to six. I am unsure of when this will take effect. “It’s difficult to say how many seals are killed on average. Harvesting takes place annually from July to November (about 140 days), depending on whether the rights holders can fill their quotas, which most often they can’t. Each year a quota is set. This year it is set at 80 000 pups and 5 000 to 6 000 bulls.” Fur Free South Africa has joined forces with Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC – an animal rights organisation offering humane non-animal alternatives to replace cruel and harmful lifestyle choices), and Sea Shepherd South Africa (part of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organisation) – to fight against the slaughter of seals in Namibia.
Recently, members of the three organisations marched through Greenside and Parkhurst in Gauteng, and held a quiet funeral procession in Cape Town, to highlight the horrors of the seal slaughter.
“The emphasis of the protest and funeral procession was on creating local awareness of the largest organised killing of mammals in the world, taking place on our very own doorstep,” says Toni Brockhoven of BWC. “Local celebrities who support the initiative included Danny K, Louise Carver, Cito (from Wonderboom) Jenna Clifford, Faizal Sayed, Steve Newman, Siyabonga Beyile, Roxy Louw and Mynie Grove. In addition to creating awareness, BWC supports the Seals of Nam organisation, which has met with the Namibian authorities and has been active in trying to persuade the Namibians to pursue eco-tourism instead. Last year, on March 15, 2011, which is celebrated worldwide as Anti-Sealing Day, Beauty Without Cruelty, Fur Free SA and Seals of Nam, together with their international partners, announced the official launch of a boycott against Namibia.
This will continue until the annual seal massacre is permanently ended. This is a step not taken lightly, but all valid approaches, including the presentation of science, have been ignored.” Danielle Stöckigt of Sea Shepherds South Africa, and a member of the Operation Desert Seal team says Namibian authorities maintain that what they call seal harvesting is meant to control the burgeoning population which threatens the fishing industry, but activists slam these reasons as hypocritical, saying the hunts are carried out for commercial gain. “Sea Shepherd dared to venture into the killing fields of Namibia in 2011, and the results of Operation Desert Seal exposed, to a global audience, the ugly business that Namibia so badly wanted to hide. Namibia’s laws dictate that filming of the seal clubbing is illegal,” says Stöckigt. “These ridiculous laws are seen as a desperate attempt to hide this heinous crime against nature. In many instances, young pups are still suckling when they are clubbed and then, dead or alive, stabbed and slashed open with knives. The male seals are shot through the head with a gun.
“The permit holders who get their permits from the government say it is for profit, but the government claims it is population control because the seals consume too many fish, and that the seal fur industry provides employment.” The permits to cull the Cape Fur seal are issued by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, headed by Bernard Esau. “Unfortunately the Namibian government fails to realise that increased fishing quotas might have something to do with their dwindling fish stocks, as opposed to the seals being used as convenient scapegoats by claiming that they’re eating all the fish,” adds Stöckigt. “The killing of these animals is a barbaric practice satisfying man’s greed and vanity. Bones are made into jewellery and skins are made into boots and other leather luxury goods. However, though the Namibian government claims that no part of the seal goes to waste, Namibia’s income from the seal industry is close to R1-million, while a single furrier named Hatem Yavuz laughs all the way to the bank with a derived income of about R26.6-million from the sale of pelts. In 2008, the aforementioned furrier signed an exclusive contract with the Namibian Government for all the seal pelts.
This contract is apparently valid until 2019. Yavuz resides in Australia and his processing plant is located in Turkey. According to Channel 7 in Australia, Yavuz controls 60 percent of the world’s seal pelt market. Since Turkey isn’t part of the EU (whose members imposed a ban on the import and export of seal products), pelts are shipped from Namibia to Turkey where they are processed and sold to countries such as China and Russia.” While conservation groups continue to rally together to fight against this practice, until November (should the quota not be reached) Namibia’s beaches will be rotten with blood, sour with spilt milk and haunted by the ghosts of butchered animals.