A few weeks ago I was honoured to receive a call from Francois Hugo from Seal Alert SA. Francois suggested I travel to Namibia and deliver an informative presentation to the media on his behalf. This would leave no doubt as to the status of the Cape Fur Seal species and would hopefully apply pressure on the Namibian govt to end the annual massacre.
I initially wasn't really sure what to expect but spent a few intensive days with Francois going over the information and material. Over 950 slides had to be considered and the presentation had to be formatted. It was an amazing learning curve for me and it soon became clear to me that the sitution is far worse than I imagined.
The Cape Fur seal should be immediately re-evaluted by means of an independent survey and its status on IUCN be upgraded to "threatened" It has barely survived seven major mass die offs and has seen a 98% loss of habitat in the last 60 years.
Professional photographer Nicci Mc Cormack and myself jetted out of Cape Town to Windhoek on Sunday morning. We had a vague plan, no accom and a mission to complete. On Francois' advice we booked in at the Airport Lodge. Very quaint little place, and although the website mentions conference facilities there are none available. Our hosts were businessman Brian Black and his lovely wife Hermien. Brian is friends with the Minister of Trade and Industry, Hermien works as a clerk in the Ministry of Finance.
Monday we discovered that a taxi 15km into town is N$250. That's just nuts when you can hike a lift for N$10 pp. We got a lift into Windhoek with Brian on his way to work. Hiking would soon become our routine as taxi's on our limited budget are too extreme. Armed with a mountain of local news papers, Nicci and I set about planning and logistics. We needed to contact all the senior reporters as well as radio stations. We needed to arrange a venue and we needed to find our way around a totally foreign city.
By lunch we had contacted most of the major media houses. The response was fantastic. Seal culling was never really major news in Namibia, but betw
een Francois Hugo, The Seals of Nam and our international affiliates, this small country is being hammered by the media. From the outset, Francois told me repeatedly that this mission was not to push any political agenda, we were not there as antagonists... all we were doing was presenting the facts using government statistics.
That afternoon we secured the conference facilities of the Furstenhof Hotel, fairly reasonable price of N$1000. We headed back to our desert retreat to plot and scheme. This involved dining on a fine packet of peanuts for dinner, putting the final touches to the presentation, checking camera equipment and deciding what to do with ourselves.
Tuesday morning started with a brief interview with Radio Kosmos. It felt quite strange listening to my own interview on the 12 o clock news while we were catching a lift into town. I burned copies of the presentation onto disc for the media and we went to get settled. By now I had learned that cameraman and film maker Bart Smithers was to join us. Bart is responsible for some of the You-tube footage on the Namibian hunt.
Not all the members of the media who promised to come did. That aside, the atmosphere in the beginning was amicable. To my surprise they all sat through a very heavy, comprehensive 2 hour presentation, much of it not even dealing with Namibia but South Africa and the historical perspective. Opening the presentation was a video message from the spiritual leader Supreme Master Ching Hai. Wearing vegan fur, she gave fitting tribute to Francois' endevours, called on government to work with activists and provided solutions and alternatives to the massacre. Her eloquence is amazing especially when she refers to the seals that glorify the coast of Namibia.
The question and answer session was not entirely as I anticipated. I feel more attention was given to non-profit organizations financial status than to the issue at hand, the collapse of a CITES II listed species and governments failure to respond accordingly. Instead of acknowledging an obvious mistake, they introduce the highest cull quota in history of the species and attack those that try to save them.
Tuesday ended with a very disappointing meal at a local eatery. Bart, Nicci and myself discussed the presentation, the current situation and how we can possibly come up with a solution. Not for ourselves who are concerned environmentalists, but for Namibia and its people. Why are they killing off such an amazing opportunity, tarnishing their international reputation and ignoring the species as being overpopulated when it has barely scraped through seven major mass die offs in 16 years? It just doesn't make sense.
Wednesday began with coffee and the thumbing of a cheap lift into town. We purchased the morning papers. Republikein produced a fair article. I can't read German, but saw a small article in Algemeine Zeitung. Now New Era, the government owned paper printed a LENGTHY letter to the editor written by some clueless individual. This chap, a supposed Doctor, raves on about colonial oppression and the sovereign right to butcher an endangered species. He ignores his countries own legislation, he advocates selling toxic seal meat collected in unhygenic conditions and in violation of CITES requirements to foreigners and he expects us to take him seriously? He should rather revert to selling love potions and snake charms. Sadly that's what I have come to expect from a state owned propaganda tabloid rag attempting to compete with mainstream journalists.
So we took our papers to the park. Bart took some footage which he may or may not use in his documentary before flying out on the next plane Wednesday afternoon. Nicci and I went around Windhoek getting ourselves familiar with the lay of the land. Namdeb, the police stations, main roads, where the press are, state veterinarian etc.
Now as I mentioned earlier, a taxi is N$250 to our hotel. The taxis are marked by a large number on the doors and review windscreen. eg T293-6 These taxis are not allowed outside the city. So the taxi drivers are heckling. I tell them N$50. The one wants to go home, he says N$60 and he'll take us both. To cancel out the large numbers on his taxi, he pulls out a roll of plumbers tape and proceeds to stick an X over the number. Although the identifying mark is clearly visible, the X over it cancels it out. Our taxi is now ready to leave the CBD. Crazy. Even at the roadblock, here we are obviously using the vehicle as a taxi, but because of this little taped X its fine.
Thursday morning we had a private chat to a reporter from The Namibian before going off to see Adv John Walters. He was not available so we went looking for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. We had called them the day before, been passed from one department to another, left umpteen messages and nobody gets back in touch. So we went to see them personally. It's like you just can't get a straight answer out of anybody. Watch the undercover footage here Eventually we ran out of time
The reason they are not giving out the population statistics is because a true survey would show massive declines. This is why the seals have suffered several mass die offs in recent years. Each time the government has admitted to being worse than the previous. Put bluntly, we believe the species to be vulnerable to climate change, we acknowledge that each time the species population is reduced by between a half to a third, we acknowledge that using government supplied statistics, (which we don't dispute entirely) the seals are in danger.
But what the government fail to realise is the unnatural growth at Cape Cross, Atlas Bay and Wolf Bay, the ONLY places where culling is taking place, is giving a false sense as to what is happening. Graphs are constructed to show the species growing at a healthy 4%. BUT the natural habitat, the offshore islands, well now here is where the species is facing a more than 90% loss in habitat. Pup production on some islands has, without mans interference from culling, dropped by more than 80% while other offshore islands have already gone extinct. With that kind of loss in habitat, we don't have much faith in the seals and seabirds protection act. We feel that this animal, the one animal seen the most by foreign tourists to Southern Africa, should be reclassified as its current "Least Concern" is based on a misrepresentation of a graph. These fur seals, the only species found on the coast of Africa have suffered seven major mass die offs. They have already been hunted to the verge of extinction in the 1800's. They should be afforded far more protection.
After that, well we packed up and came back home. I do believe way more could be achieved if there was a team stationed permanently in Namibia. We hope to deploy a Beach Master Team to monitor the start of the cull season. Interested volunteers can mail us TheSealsOfNam@gmail.com
Friday we hooked up with Francois. He is happy with the steps taken and agrees that the ideal would be to have someone on the ground over a few months at least.
If anyone would like to join the team or sponsor a volunteer, they can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In closing, I would personally like to thank Francois for the opportunity. Without his contribution this would not have happened.