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The Namibian authorities’ plans to capture more than 100 wild elephants to sell them to zoos have been condemned by animal welfare and conservation organisations which claim this will be a breach of international law. A coalition of 60 organisations is urging the Namibian government to desist.

In December 2020, Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) offered up to 170 live elephants from populations in the northeast of the country for auction to zoos.  In August 2021, MEFT announced that they had received and accepted bids for 57 elephants, 42 of whom would be exported. On 15th February 2022, MEFT issued a further statement confirming that 37 elephants had been captured, 22 of whom are awaiting export, and that a further 20 elephants “remain to be captured.” The Born Free Foundation believes that some if not all of the 22 elephants destined for export are due to be shipped to a zoo in the United Arab Emirates. 

Namibia’s desert elephants are listed on Appendix II of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, with a restriction on live exports to in situ conservation programmes, not commercial purposes.  The legality of Namibia’s actions will be debated at a CITES meeting in March 2022.

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy, said: “The capture of wild elephants for sale to zoos condemns the animals to a lifetime of suffering. While doing nothing to address claimed ‘overpopulation’, the captures will also disrupt fragile populations from which these elephants have been taken, which could have serious consequences for their future, and could even make conflict between elephants and people more likely. By exporting these animals, Namibia is, in our view, flouting international law and ignoring the views of elephant experts, and the shipment of pregnant and/or newly born animals could contravene international wildlife transport regulations. We implore the authorities in Namibia to think again and return these elephants to their wild herds.”