In March 2022, a group of endangered elephants from the wild in Namibia landed in the UAE. The sale served to simulate an African safari experience in Emirati zoos. No benefits for the animals and Namibian locals are observed, and international protocols were violated.
Initially captured from their natural habitat in Kamanjab, north-western Namibia in early September 2021, these African elephants — an endangered species — spent six months in quarantine captivity. They were heavily sedated before being loaded into shipping containers, onto a plane, and transferred to their final destinations: the Sharjah Safari Park and Abu Dhabi’s Al-Ain Zoo. That was revealed by an exclusive investigation by The New Arab.
For the fun of Emirati
For Emirati rulers, the tourism-driven African theme of their wildlife parks apparently mattered more than the success of breeding programs. It was made clear to Al-Ain Zoo Director Mark Craig that there were no imports from Africa with a European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)-accredited breeding program because past ones had not been successful. Arne Lawrenz, the EAZA Ex-situ Programme (EEP) coordinator for elephants, described the “philosophy” of the Emirati zoos as “I got the money, I want to have it. I don’t care if that works.” The outcome was a lucrative deal finalized through middlemen rather than a non-commercial exchange between zoos.
After months of back and forth between The New Arab and EAZA officials, during which TNA shared the information it obtained and questioned the role of the European association’s members in the elephant sale, the EAZA decided to terminate the Al-Ain Zoo’s membership on September 15. John Grobler, a Namibian journalist involved in this investigation, is planning to draw on this exposé to call for sanctions against Namibia at the CITES CoP 19 meeting in November, which is considered the world’s most important annual summit on wildlife trade.
Wildlife trafficking is the world’s fourth most lucrative illicit trade, worth an estimated USD 15 billion annually. Is this a case of illegal elephant trafficking? This exclusive investigation sheds light on the involvement of shadowy intermediaries, the violation of international conventions on endangered species, the mistreatment of elephants, and the lack of long-term benefits for conservation or the African communities affected by their presence.
Namibia claims endangered elephants are sold legally
Namibia has defended its sale of 22 wild endangered elephants to a zoo in the United Arab Emirates as legal and needed to prevent human-wildlife conflict. But conservationists call it a legal loophole and excuse to make money. That was reported by VOA.
The chief of Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism described the sale as a private transaction, between buyer and seller, which could not be influenced by the Namibian government.
Speaking at a press briefing, Teofilus Nghitila said the transaction is lawful and in accordance with CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Michele Pickover is executive director of an animal welfare group, the EMS Foundation. She told VOA that Namibian authorities are being disingenuous by citing Article Three of the CITES, which deals with the export of endangered species from their natural habitats.
Pickover further said a legal opinion from the foundation’s attorneys said the transaction is illegal and that the main motivating factor for the export of the elephants is not to manage human-wildlife conflict but to make a profit.