Million-dollar bid to end seal clubbingBy: BRIGITTE WEIDLICH
THE brutal clubbing to death of thousands of Cape fur seal pups on the Namibian coast might come to an end if a South African animal welfare group can raise N$114 million to buy out the only remaining international company buying the skins.
“We reached an understanding with Australian-based seal skin buyer Hatem Yavuz to purchase Namibia’s sealing industry lock, stock and barrel for US$14,2 million (about N$114 million),” Francois Hugo of Seal Alert South Africa told The Namibian from Cape Town yesterday.
“We received a letter from him on Friday and he said he would not have the culling start on Wednesday, July 1, but wait two weeks until the middle of the month so we can raise the money internationally, while he is busy drawing up the contract,” Hugo added.
“I am already busy with international appeals to let individuals and organisations make pledges around the world to collect the amount required.”
However, the Ministry of Fisheries said the culling season would start as usual on Wednesday.
“The sealing season starts on July 1 I think, there have been no changes”, Dr Moses Maurihungiriri, Director of Resource Management at the Ministry, told The Namibian yesterday.
“We are in the third year of a three-year rolling seal quota of 85 000 seal pups and 6 000 bulls annually, which was issued in 2007,” he added.
The baby seals are usually battered to death with wooden clubs in the early morning hours between 05h00 and 09h00 at the Cape Cross seal colony north of Swakopmund “to prevent tourists from getting upset by the culling”, a source at a Swakopmund tourism company said.
Visitors are allowed into Cape Cross from 10h00.
The seal bulls are shot dead during the same time slot, so that tourists do not have to listen to the shots and watch the killings and the bloody carcasses animals dragged off and loaded onto vehicles.
Seal Alert’s pressure on the Hatem Yavuz Group, Namibia’s only remaining seal skin buyer, with offices in Australia, Turkey, Russia and South Africa, to stop its imports from Namibia appears to have borne fruit.
“Last year only 23 000 seals were killed, less than a third of the annual quota,” Hugo said.
“The two concessionaires, one at Lüderitz and one at Henties Bay, who do the sealing each year could not fill the quota and operations ended after just a few weeks.”
This was apparently because there were not enough seals to fill the quota.
The Australian-based fur dealer Yavuz could not sell most of this 2008 stock of furs and skins and 130 tons of seal oil, according to Hugo.
He said Yavuz did not place orders for skins of the 2009 season despite allegedly being pressured by the Namibian Government to do so.
Sealskin products, and furs in general, are currently in low demand due to the global economic meltdown.
“Yavuz told me he wanted to invest the money from the sale of the seal business outside Namibia, including his stakes in the two Namibian concessionaires, into fruit processing and we must help him to move the 95 Namibian employees over to the new enterprise so they do not lose their jobs,” Hugo told The Namibian.
The European Union last month banned the import of seal products into EU member states, and also the transport through them.
The European Parliament voted to endorse an EU-wide ban on seal products in protest at commercial hunting methods, sparking a threat from Canada to take action at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The move, backed by much of the European public and animal rights groups, was approved by 550 votes against 49 at the Strasbourg parliament. The ban will come into force for the next commercial seal hunt season in 2010.
Canada had an annual quota of over 300 000 seal pups last year, but only managed to kill around 60 000 according to Seal Alert SA, because the value of sealskin and fur prices dropped from around N$800 to N$100.
Hugo said after ending the seal cull in Namibia, he would like to turn the sealing plants in Namibia into seal museums for tourists. Any revenue would go towards scientific research on Cape fur seals and to assist the Namibian Government with the protection of its roughly 850 000 seals.