The Namibian government is set to sell 170 wild elephants to international buyers in a controversial auction taking place today in the face of a petition of more than 100,000 signatures condemning the sale. Conservationists behind the appeal to stop the sale warn that claims of human-elephant conflict have been exaggerated by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism to paint a picture of an environment overrun with animals, despite the statistics that elephants are now extinct from 29 African countries.
Elephants are under increasing threat from poaching and unlawful killings. In the last 100 years, Africa has lost almost 95 percent of its resident elephants and 8-10 percent of those that have survived are killed annually.
Some of the elephants that were captured by the Namibian government are trans-boundary herds that make enormous migrations across the continent of Africa, as herds have done for thousands of years. Conservation workers standing to protect these animals argue that their wanderlust lifestyle means they can’t be claimed by any one country and thus be mistreated, slaughtered, or sold under local government rule.
According to a report provided to IFLScience by conservationist Mark Hiley, Operation Director of National Park Rescue, the Namibian Government (NGov) have claimed they have “too many” elephants, but their numbers are officially just 23,736 – far lower than their smaller neighbor, Botswana, which is home to around 130,000. Conservationists estimate that between 17,256 and 20,000 of these elephants are trans-boundary migratory elephants that move between Namibia, Angola, Zambia, and Botswana and that Namibia's resident population is more likely around 5,688.
The populations in Botswana suffered their own tragedy last year as hundreds of elephants were lost in a mass die off event, the exact cause of which remains unclear despite claims that cyanobacteria in small pools of water was to blame.
In 2017, NGov controversially refused to take part in the first pan-African “Great Elephant Survey,” meaning it may not have followed the standardized methodology for estimating population sizes and could be exaggerating population statistics and human-wildlife conflict. It’s feared that revenue-generating initiatives could be motivating the inflation of these numbers, examples of which include demand from high hunting quotas, sales to zoos, and ivory-generating culls.
“For thousands of years matriarch elephants have led their herds across multiple countries on huge migrations each year,” wrote Hiley in a press release emailed to IFLScience. “Although we’ve slaughtered 95 percent of all elephants in 100 years, the last of these great herds still carry out their epic journeys. These international elephants don’t ‘belong’ to anyone and Namibia’s proposal to capture and exploit them is rightly being seen as a crime against nature.”