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Exclusive Interview with Francois Hugo, Founder, Seal Alert-SA

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13.7: You mentioned that the South African diamond giant De Beers disapproves of the seal hunt. How does it affect them?

Hugo: De Beers should make the Cape fur seal its number one wildlife conservation priority, because it owned the farm on which South African sealers slaughtered well over 1.5 million seal pups between the 1970 and 1990. In a weird quirk, the De Beers restricted coastline initially offered a safe sanctuary for the seals fleeing the islands, but as their fleeing numbers swelled and more island habitats collapsed from sealing, these mainland sanctuaries actually became death camps for the seals. The same thing occurred in Namibia, although here De Beers only leases the land from the government, but is in a 50/50 partnership with the government in mining operations.

The De Beers Elizabeth mine is only about 10 kilometers from the culling colonies of Wolf/Atlas Bay. The mass die-offs reported in 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2006 hit hardest in the south (the diamond-restricted area), and unfortunately De Beers offered no assistance to help or rescue any of these tens of thousands of dying seal babies on their beaches. This is dishonorable, as it is their policy to restrict access to this area. Therefore the obligation to offer help during those mass die-off years was theirs alone, but they prevented public assistance because of their restriction.

In a further quirk, the public is not allowed access to the restricted area -- a vast area. To be granted access, the public is not allowed to take in cameras or cellphones. Yet, daily thugs of seal killers with clubs, knives and rifles can drive in and out of the most restricted area in Africa simply because the government gave them a permit to club seals. De Beers has never explained why they never voiced concern to prevent this access, citing security risks. After I questioned this sealer/De Beers relationship, De Beers did publicly issue a letter saying De Beers is opposed to culling, and it is believed that they did attempt to get Namibia to stop its cull. They did ask the EU to include Cape fur seals in the EU ban, as the anti-seal hunt movement had initially excluded Cape fur seals from the ban.

In my opinion, De Beers has a wonderful opportunity to do the right thing, and financially help Seal Alert-SA buy out the sealing industry, partly because their head office in South Africa, a country that has stopped seal culling, and partly because their major clients in United States since 1972 and the EU recently have banned the practice and imports due to the cruelty factor. It really is a case of "bloody seal diamonds."

13.7: How did you first get interested in seal conservation and when did you start Seal Alert-SA?

Hugo: I am not a conservationist. I do not believe in the word -- it's meaningless. I am an investigator and my client just happens to be seals -- not a human or corporation. I am investigating crimes against seals. My first seal client, which awakened me, was an entangled seal pup, ignored and left to suffer.

13.7: Can you describe this first client?
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Hugo: She was a female seal pup about 10 months old I named Sweety. Fishing line had cut off both of her flippers to the bone. She couldn't swim or hunt. Her entanglement, which would never biodegrade, was her tomb. She was dying from thirst and hunger in a watery grave. Freeing that seal, who was then too weak to swim away or have any energy to hunt taught me my first lesson: Rescuing seals is not rescue until the seal leaves and can survive on its own again in the wild. In fact, Sweety taught me a unique way, in fact, that the only successful way to save seals is to respect their freedom and work with them unconfined and free. Sweety in a sense hired me and opened my eyes and to their centuries of suffering. The plight of seals is actually in the unseen world that we all live in.

13.7: What exactly does Seal Alert-SA do to stop the seal hunt?

Hugo: The short answer is what doesn't it do? If you can think of it, I have probably tried it and a whole lot more. Only time, lack of funding or physical limitation or prioritizing already existing saved lives prevents me moving quicker to end it.

13.7: How many people are actively working for Seal Alert-SA?

Hugo: Probably thousands around the globe. Seal Alert-SA is Francois Hugo is Cape fur seals is all of us. Seal Alert-SA has never had paid staff or had an office. My work is done in the wild, on the Internet and in meetings. We have no Web site, fundraising, PR or newsletter -- just like-minded individuals coming together to achieve a common goal. I am simply the physical saver of seals and the voice to mankind.
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13.7: How important are donations to Seal Alert-SA?

Hugo: In reality not very important, as I fund my own rescues and do not exist because of donations. Many donation-based organizations need donations first to then do the work. I work the other way around. I just do the work or rescues and if and when a crossroad occurs, appeal then for that specific solution and get like-minded partners to help. This said, donations are very important as it means "many hands make light work."

13.7: Do you work with other anti-sealing organizations?

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Reynard Loki is a staff writer for Sustainable Finance and Corporate Social Responsibility at 3BL Media/Justmeans. A former media executive with 15 years experience in the private and non-profit sectors, Reynard is the co-founder of MomenTech, a New (more...)

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