As Namibia’s drought worsens, the African nation’s government is auctioning off 1,000 of its wildest animals to the public in a bid to reduce the amount of wildlife in its national parks. As the parks struggle with the second drought in almost three years, water and food supplies dwindle, leaving the parks in a near state of emergency. The environment ministry believes that by selling close to six hundred buffaloes, 28 elephants, 60 giraffes, 65 oryx, and 20 impala, as well as 35 eland, 16 wildebeest and 16 kudus from the Waterberg Plateau Park and Hardap and Naute game parks, it will lessen the pressures on grazing areas which will otherwise result in major losses of animal life due to starvation. In 2018 alone, an estimated 63,700 animals died across the continent due to poor grazing conditions brought on by the drought – and the government is determined not to let this happen a second year running.
The decision has been criticized by animal activists, who argue the animals will be bought by game farmers and used for paid hunting exploits or to produce meat, hide or antler products. But what is the better approach, ethically-speaking? Selling animals to the public in the hopes of saving a larger amount of wildlife, at risk of selling to the wrong buyer? Or risking a much larger population of animals for the sake of saving a few. These are murky waters indeed.
Between 1970 and 2005, Africa’s biggest parks and wildlife reserves lost up to sixty percent of their large wild animals – including lions, buffalo, and giraffes. The dramatic and intense losses of life seen in Africa’s wildlife parks in recent years is nothing new, but we are now reaching the point where small decisions – such as the one to auction off wildlife – truly matter. But without adequate funding the government has few alternatives. Short of finding space for the animals in other national parks across the continent, what option does the government really have to save these animals? Fund conservation efforts through the setting up of more wildlife protection organisations? Enhance eco-tourism efforts? Charge travelers and students to become veterinary volunteers in the parks? These approaches have already been tried and tested for decades, with insignificant results. And as the effects of climate change worsen, so too will the prospects for Africa’s wildlife. The frequency and severity of drought will continue to plague our world into the future, destroying nature reserves, crops and farms, and decimating our forests and national parks. Really, we ought to be attacking the root of the problem, not finding band-aid solutions to its various impacts. But how? There are no simple answers.
Namibia has previously made calls for international aid to assist in coping with the drought that has to date affected more than 500,000 people – and they are not alone. In January this year, South Africa began approaching banks and governments to raise more than $220 million to help support farmers battling drought. Interestingly, Namibia’s wildlife auction will raise a potential $1.1 million in much needed conservation funds, specifically towards the government’s Game Products Trust Fund which will support anti-poaching policing and the relocation of wildlife.
But it will not be enough to solve the problem in the long term.
What is worrying about all this is that this involves the sale of exotic, rare species to buyers who mightn’t have those animals’ best interests at heart. At the same time, the animals could potentially be purchased by a buyer dedicated to their preservation and wellbeing. How can the Namibian government get away with this auction legally you might ask? Well, because none of the animals being sold are considered endangered, critically endangered or extinct in the world. Despite common knowledge, African elephants are no longer considered an endangered species: the IUCN moved them into the ‘vulnerable’ status in 2004, after recognizing that some 415,000 of them continue to roam the continent. But does this mean it should be considered okay to transfer ownership of these unique, beautiful animals to private homes and farms?
The Namibian government argues that game parks have the facilities to care for animals such as elephants and giraffes, and so the sale of these animals to such buyers is the only option they have. What I want to know is, will it set a poor precedent for conservation efforts into the future? When zoos or wildlife sanctuaries struggle to feed and care for their animals, will the solution soon become simply to sell surplus animals to the highest bidder? Through the funding of drought resistance efforts from the international community, perhaps these extreme measures could be avoided in Namibia. But pessimism tells me this will not happen – not now, and not in five years to come.
Are we about to see the widespread loss of some of Africa’s most beautiful and unique wildlife? What we need is a true ‘culture change for climate change’ so that we begin shifting norms at scale to prevent climate change from occurring further – and drought, resultantly – before it is really too late.