A British investigative journalist and his South African cameraman were violently assaulted by seal hunters and arrested by police while documenting the controversial Namibian seal hunt yesterday morning.
The incident happened in the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, Western Namibia.
Filming met with aggression
The investigators, working with Bont voor dieren – a Dutch charity and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) member society – were reportedly attacked by a group of seal hunters armed with clubs.
The team were filming the killing of seals for some 20 minutes before a group of hunters approached and assaulted them, reportedly punching them to the ground and hitting them with clubs.
Claire Bass, WSPA’s Marine Mammals campaigner said: “The horrific violence of the Namibian seal hunt has reached a whole new level. The sealers know how the world will react to these hunts and are clearly prepared to go to any lengths to keep this brutal industry from public view. There can be no justifcation for a clubbing attack against investigators whose only weapon is a camera.”
Namibian authorities response
The pair’s cameras and video footage was also seized in the incident, which happened at about 7am yesterday morning. Police subsequently arrived before arresting the pair on suspicion of trespass and obstruction.
The pair were held for most of yesterday in a local police station and released on bail last night. They are due to appear in court today (Friday 17th July) on charges of trespassing. Ecostorm have hired a lawyer from a legal firm in Windhoek who is working with the journalists in Western Namibia.
The pair – Jim Wickens, a reporter with the Brighton-based Ecostorm investigation agency and Bart Smithers, a freelance cameraman – revealed that a seal hunter again attacked them whilst they were being held in a police vehicle.
Why is the seal hunt so controversial?
WSPA has repeatedly condemned the extreme cruelty of the Namibian hunt for over 90,000 fur seals, which includes some 85,000 pups. Previous footage of the hunts shows bloodied pups left writhing in agony having been clubbed and left to slowly die.
The seals are hunted for skins, fur and meat and seal genitals are sold as traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs in Asia.
This latest incident puts a spotlight on secretive and brutal nature of the Namibian seal hunt; the Namibian authorities are incredibly careful to guard the hunts from public view.
Namibia makes far more money from seal watching than it does from sealing. Bizarrely, Cape Cross – where the investigators were attacked yesterday – is also a ‘seal reserve’.
The Namibian authorities don’t want people to know this 'seal reserve' has two sides to it. Between 6am and 9am each day, up to 200 seal pups will be clubbed to death. Then at 10am, coach loads of tourists from around the world arrive to take photos of the few terrified seals left behind.
Making money from wildlife tourism and seal hunts
Claudia Linssen of Bont voor Dieren said: “We urge the Namibian government to cease the culling of seals and instead concentrate on sustainable tourism. As long as this continues we ask people to think twice about Namibia as a holiday destination.”
Not only is Namibia’s sealing cruel, it’s also a direct threat to the much more lucrative and sustainable wildlife tourism industry there. The entire sealing industry in Namibia is worth only around £400,000, whilst seal-watching tourism is worth millions, with significant potential for expansion.
Claire concluded: “We’re hopeful that the recent EU ban will be the tipping point which ultimately ends commercial sealing industries worldwide. Consumers simply don’t want to buy into these hunts and so the economic incentives are slowly but surely disappearing. In Canada this year sealers apparently took only around 20% of the total quota because demand just isn’t there.”
WSPA’s work with Ecostorm
Andrew Wasley, co-director of Ecostorm, said: “Clearly this was a violent and unwarranted attack on two journalists doing their job; gathering information and pictures of the highly secretive Namibian seal hunt. We call on the Namibian authorities to investigate the assaults and theft of equipment."
WSPA has worked successfully with Ecostorm to capture footage of several animal welfare issues over the last few years, including our undercover investigation of Greenland’s subsistence whaling activities last year.
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