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The Namibian Wild Elephant Auction, Capture and Export into Captivity in the UAE 

On 3rd December 2020 a carefully worded government advertisement published in the Namibian media outlined its intention to auction wild elephants to anyone in Namibia or abroad. The potential buyers were required to meet the so-called strict criteria, which included quarantine facilities and a ‘game’-proof fence certificate for the property where the elephants would be kept. For export purposes, the regulations of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) requirements needed to be met. Foreign buyers were advised to provide proof that conservation authorities in their respective countries would permit the import of Namibian elephants. 

Despite the fact that the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s African Elephant Specialist Group (IUCN/SSC AfESG) had stated in 2003  that they did not endorse the removal of African elephants from the wild for any captive use if such use provides no direct benefit to in situ conservation, the Namibian government  made the decision to sell 22 wild Namibian elephants for capture and relocation to a temporary holding facility at Go Hunt Safaris in Gobabis.  

While Namibia insisted that the auction to sell and remove elephants from the Kunene region was carried out to reduce elephant-human conflict. The subsequent publication of a Report entitled Investigation into the Efficacy of Namibia’s Wildlife Conservation Model as it Relates to African Elephants, researched and written by Dr Adam Cruise and Izzy Sasada, indicates that the Namibian authorities overstated the frequency and severity of wildlife-human conflicts. 

In particular, the content of this Report concludes that in many areas in Namibia, particularly in the Kunene Region of the country, wildlife populations of many species including the elephant are declining. 

An article in the Namibian Sun, Namibia’s Elephant Middleman published on 11th March 2022, included the information that the owner of Go Hunt Safaris,  Gerrie Odendaal, bought 22 elephants at the auction in 2020 for N$3.3 million and sold them via international wildlife trader Elske Burger/Luus to the Al Ain Zoo and Sharjah Safari Park in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for N$50million.

On the 15th February 2022, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism in Namibia released a public statement confirming that the 22 elephants that were captured in 2021 in Kamanjab, in the Kunene Region were to be exported.  Two weeks later the elephants landed in the UAE and were reported to have been delivered to the Sharjah Safari Park in Sharjah and the Al Ain Zoo in Abu Dhabi.  

Condemnation of the Import of the Namibian Elephants by the Al Ain Zoo by European Association of Zoos and Aquaria 

The Al Ain Zoo was a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).  The acquisition of elephants captured from the wild in Namibia violated international guidelines, standards and codes of EAZA.  EAZA could find no justification for the purchase of the Namibian elephants and announced the termination of the membership of the Al Ain Zoo in the UAE on 15th September 2022 and reiterated their condemnation of the import of the wild elephants. 

The Pro Elephant Network’s Ongoing Opposition to the Export of Wild Namibian Elephants into Captivity in the UAE Highlighted from December 2020 

On 20th December 2020, an open letter opposing the commercial sale of Namibian wild elephants was prepared on behalf of the Pro Elephant Network (PREN) by the Born Free Foundation (a PREN member) and delivered to the government of Namibia and the CITES Secretariat. The content of the letter contained carefully illustrated, important and legitimate concerns and expert opinions. The Namibian government was politely urged to withdraw the auction tender notice.

On World Elephant Day, 12th August 2021, PREN requested answers to the following questions from the Namibian CITES Authorities

If the elephants that were to be captured and sold internationally, were for in situ conservation purposes only.

What the final destinations were, for the elephants.

If any of the elephants would be going into captive facilities.

On 21st September 2021, PREN advised the CITES Secretary General, the Legal Affairs and Compliance officer CITES Secretariat, the Chief of the Science Unit CITES Secretariat, Chair of the CITES Standing Committee and Chair of CITES Animals Committee that they had not had the pleasure of a response from the Namibian CITES Authorities. 

PREN also advised the recipients that the Secretariat had failed to address the legal arguments that had been addressed in the communication.  Furthermore, PREN advised the recipients that they had been reliably informed that the capture of the elephants was imminent.

legal opinion prepared on 25th October 2021 by environmental lawyers, Cullinan and Associates, acting on behalf of the EMS Foundation (a  PREN member) clearly concluded that it was unlawful for the Namibian CITES Management Authority to issue an export permit under either Appendix I or Appendix II of CITES.  Similarly, they did not believe it would be lawful for a country outside of the range states for Loxodonta africana to issue an import permit. 

On 27th October 2021, PREN delivered a letter to the Namibian CITES Authority, reiterating Namibia’s obligations under CITES and carefully pointing out the roles and responsibilities of the CITES Secretariat, CITES Committees and the Member States which are signatories of the Convention.  PREN was acting on the knowledge that the elephants had already been captured and were in a temporary holding facility in preparation for export to the UAE. 

On 18th February 2022, with mounting concern for the captured elephants, PREN urged CITES to halt the export of the 22 elephants to the UAE and to return the elephants to the wild as soon as possible. 

Furthermore, PREN prevailed upon the CITES Secretariat and the Parties to CITES to commit to robust disciplinary measures should the export from Namibia to the UAE go ahead and it urged the CITES Standing Committee to take a clear position on this unfortunate matter at its 74th meeting which was to be held in Lyon in France between the 7th and 11th March 2022.  

On 15th March 2022, the EMS Foundation published a briefing Report, titled Namibia’s Live Trade in African Elephants Captured from the Wild. The Report clearly illustrates CITES had every opportunity and sufficient evidence to stop the sale and capture of the wild rare desert adapted elephants in Namibia.  The CITES Secretary-General, Chair of the Standing Committee and Chair of the Animals Committee were provided with detailed information which they could have used to prevent the elephants from being exported from Namibia and Imported into the UAE.