Namibia’s December 2020 auction notice said elephants would be sold in herds and families would not break up. Calves can be seen in drone footage of a farm holding the 22 captive elephants earmarked for export. Namibian journalist John Grobler recorded the video on February 12. He says he’s worried more elephants may be pregnant and that the stress of captivity could trigger premature births.
“We caught herds of elephants,” says Muyunda, “it’s possible that some elephants were pregnant.” He confirmed that two calves were born after the elephants were taken from the wild and said: “They are fine. “
Grobler was charged with allegedly trespassing on the farm, prompting the ministry to issue today’s statement to “clarify the current status of the auctions,” Muyunda says.
Grobler says he was standing on a public road when he sent a drone over the farm to monitor the elephants. The farm’s owner, GH Odendaal, declined to comment on the story.
It is disputed whether Namibia is even allowed to export wild elephants to a foreign zoo or other buyers outside of southern Africa.
The international wildlife treaty governing the export of wild African elephants, CITES, was amended in 2019 to prevent elephants in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa from being exported to countries where the animals do not live or have lived in of wilderness unless there is a proven conservation benefit. That almost certainly rules out sales to zoos in China and the United States, for example.
Dan Ashe, the president and CEO of the US-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), said in an email on Feb. 14 that the association was not aware of any participation by its members in the Namibian elephant auction. “We share concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding this initiative,” Ashe said. However, he added that members “are not required to notify AZA of potential animal imports.”
In October 2021, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on whether US facilities had applied for import permits for elephants from Namibia. National Geographic filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on Oct. 4 for any permit requests that may be related, but had not yet received those documents. After this story was published on February 15, the service’s FOIA office took action National Geographic saying there are no records of applications, ruling out US zoos as one of the possible destinations for these elephants.
“Namibia’s authorities should listen to international elephant experts and stop these disastrous exports before it’s too late,” said Mark Jones, policy director of the UK-based Born Free Foundation, a group that opposes the taking of animals from the wild .
Namibia’s elephant exports will be discussed at a planned CITES meeting in Lyon, France next month.