Halt export of elephants, critics demand

News of the auctioning of 170 elephants broke in December 2020 and caused an uproar. Despite the opposition, the ministry went ahead, selling 57 elephants for N$5.9 million the following month.

01 October 2021 | Environment



Conservationists and wildlife trade experts from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the globe are calling for a halt on Namibia’s controversial capture and export of elephants.

This after the environment ministry recently announced that it will capture 57 elephants for sale to undisclosed buyers, adding that 42 of them will be exported.

News of the auctioning of 170 elephants broke in December 2020 and caused an uproar. Despite the opposition, the ministry went ahead, selling 57 elephants for N$5.9 million in January

Namibia recently confirmed to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) that its trade in live African elephants will take place under Article III of the convention and that it will fully comply with its requirements.

In a new statement issued by Foundation Franz Weber (FFW), it said according to a number of conservation NGOs, the exports intended by Namibia are most likely headed to zoos and parks outside of Africa and this may be in contravention of international rules under Cites.

The environment ministry has been tight-lipped on who the international buyers of the elephants are or even to what countries the elephants will be exported.

“The NGOs have appealed to the authorities in Namibia to urgently halt exports and have asked the Cites secretariat to withdraw any statement that appears to endorse Namibia’s intentions,” FFW said.

Dangerous precedent

The organisation said, technically, Namibia is only allowed to export live elephants to conservation programmes inside of Africa, according to the terms of the listing of their elephant population under Cites. However, the country is using a contested legal interpretation of these terms to justify sending wild, live-caught elephants to captive facilities outside of their natural range, it said. “This interpretation is highly controversial and sets a dangerous precedent for the future protection of wild elephants from the impact of international trade.”

According to FFW, the Cites animals committee has also expressed concerns about this divisive issue and the standing committee will examine the legality of Namibia’s interpretation as it applies to exports of live elephants at its next meeting in 2022.

“The Cites secretariat issued a statement on 8 September all but endorsing the planned exports from Namibia – only to revise it a few days later after criticism from several parties to Cites and concerned NGOs.

“The secretariat’s updated statement still fails to clarify that it is not endorsing these exports. These same NGOs now ask the secretariat to retract its statement altogether until the legality of this trade has been fully examined by the standing committee and the parties.”


FFW said between 2010 and 2019, African countries exported 194 wild caught elephants, the majority of which came from Zimbabwe, followed by Namibia. At least 22 of them are alleged to now be dead. The biggest importer was China, followed by the US.

“What Namibia proposes – using a dubious interpretation of the listing rules to create a loophole that suits their purpose – risks driving a coach and horses through the underlying principles of the convention and the authority of decisions agreed by the parties.

“The rules regarding the export of live elephants from Namibia, by any rational reading, could not be clearer. To suggest otherwise is dangerously disingenuous. These proposed exports must be halted,” Dr Mark Jones, head of policy at Born Free Foundation, said.

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