Baby Seal Cull in Namibia Hampered by Bans, IFAW Says

Namibia will struggle to meet its quota of killing 80,000 baby seals this year as import bans in the European Union, the U.S. and Russia cut demand for fur products, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.

“People are more aware of the cruelty involved and that’s resulted in import bans around the world,” Sheryl Fink, director of IFAW’s seal campaign, said in a telephone interview from Toronto yesterday. “It’s not an industry that’s commercially viable.”

The south-west African country, the second-biggest hunter of seals behind Canada, begins its annual seal cull this month as it seeks to boost fish populations and profit from selling pups’ fur and adult male penises, which are used as an aphrodisiac in Asia. Animal rights groups oppose the cull because they say it’s inhumane and are demanding the practice be ended.

Namibia will allow hunters to kill as many as 86,000 Cape Fur seals this year, the same quota as in 2012, including 6,000 adult males, said Bernhard Esau, Namibia’s minister of fisheries and marine resources, by telephone from Windhoek. Seal pups’ fur is used to make boots and hats.

“If we don’t harvest the seals, this will create an imbalance in our marine ecosystem and eventually it will impact negatively on fish stocks and the entire fishing industry is threatened,” Esau said. Fishing is Namibia’s second-biggest export industry after mining, mainly diamonds and uranium, according to the ministry’s website.

Wooden Bats

Seals consume 700,000 metric tons of fish a year, more than the country’s total fishing quota, Esau said. The allowable catch for hake, which is exported to Europe, and horse mackerel, sold to countries in southern and western Africa, is 140,000 tons and 350,000 tons respectively.

IFAW rejects that killing seals will boost fish stocks. “There hasn’t been a single case where killing seals or whales anywhere in the world has resulted in an increase in the prey population,” Fink said. “There are more than two species. If seals are killed then other species will step in and may eat even more fish.”

The Namibian hunt is particularly cruel as it is targeted at seals of between seven and 10 months old, who are still nursing, Fink said. They are separated from their mothers and clubbed to death with wooden bats as they run toward the sea, she said.

“We have always appealed to animal rights organizations to come to us during off seasons such that we conduct trials on harvesting methods they think are more humane,” Esau said.

Cheap Pelts

In Namibia, the seals are usually culled at Atlas Bay and Cape Cross, where Portugal’s Diego Cao, the first European to land in Namibia, came onshore in 1486. As many as 210,000 seals converge on Cape Cross, which lies on the Atlantic Ocean north of the town of Swakopmund, at a time.

Seal hunts around the world show “repeated examples of cruelty that cannot be alleviated by regulation,” Fink said.

About 69,000 harp seals were killed in Canada last year, out of a quota of 400,000, according to the country’s department of fisheries and oceans. The price of a seal pelt has dropped to between $25 and $30 from $120 in 2006 due to the import bans around the world, making hunting less commercially attractive, Fink said.

The number of seals killed in Namibia last year was likewise “significantly lower” than the government’s quota, Fink said. “This demonstrates the lack of markets and lack of demand for seal products,” she said.

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