A controversial auction that was met with a petition signed by over 100,000 people went ahead earlier this year in Namibia seeing 170 animals going at a rate of just $7,000 per elephant, though only 57 found buyers in the end. The auction took place in response to what the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism has said is an increasing problem with human-elephant conflict, but conservationists behind the appeal (including the Born Free Foundation) say that these claims have been exaggerated despite the statistic that elephants are now extinct from 29 African countries.
In the wake of an international outcry earlier in the year, the government has responded saying that the elephant sale will indeed go ahead. The auction saw wild herds put on sale to buyers for just $7,000, though only a third eventually were purchased. These animals will now be captured and moved to their new homes.
Mark Hiley, Operation Director for National Park Rescue, who stands in solidarity with the conservationists who opposed the auction, told IFLScience that most of the buyers are from overseas. This means that in not cancelling the sale, the government are permiting animals to be sent off to foreign zoos, two things the opposition were keen to avoid.
“With only a third of Namibia’s wild elephant sale finding buyers, it’s clear that the international outcry and worldwide media has scared off some of the usual suspects, limiting the damage to Namibians’ fast-disappearing natural heritage,” said Hiley.
“But until the millions of angry tweets turn into meaningful compensation for protecting these shared world assets, their destruction is inevitable.”
The two species of African elephants were officially declared endangered by the IUCN back in March 2021, as it was revealed that their numbers sit at just 5 percent of what they were a century ago.
“Their contribution to ecosystems, tourism, carbon capture, and more, likely values each elephant at seven-figures,” said Hiley. “But instead of harnessing this value and acting as the custodians of wildlife for future generations, governments are focused on the short-term. But where are the short-term donors to help us halt these crimes against nature, until a global environment fund can finally safeguard our planet?”
[Update 13/08/2021: This article was updated to clarify that only a third of the animals were sold at auction, which went ahead earlier this year.]