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

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opednews.com Headlined to H4 7/21/09

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Hugo: No. The deal is to buy out the entire Namibian sealing industry and shut it down.

13.7: If this is a private business deal, how exactly is the government involved?

Hugo: The government must be involved from the beginning for a number of reasons. First of all, selling the rights to kill one million seals needs the minister's consent. Should the minister not decide to give it or refuse, Yavuz would therefore have nothing to sell and could be liable for attempted fraud. Secondly, the government also needs to state its position equally whether it would now adopt a policy of non-consumptive use of the seals in line with the constitution of Namibia -- therefore declaring seal culls officially over.

13.7: What will happen if the government doesn't agree to include the transfer of the killing rights in the deal?

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Hugo: A number of things. Firstly, I could charge the sealing industry for allegedly attempted fraud and extortion. These charges could force the government to suspend the sealing rights pending the outcome of a trial. Secondly, the seal processing factories could be sold for a lower price, closing all means of processing seals. Thirdly, an offer could be made to pay the government the full sealing levies and re-train and re-employ seal clubbers as seal colony protectors and monitors. There are many options, but cash on the table must come first.

13.7: Your recent press release mentions the possibility of financial support for the sale from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), but they have remained silent. What do you think is the reason for this?

Hugo: Three decades ago, IFAW developed a campaign to end seal hunts where an estimated $1.5 billion has been raised. Its support base of 3 million supporters consists mainly of members wishing to end seal hunts. Unfortunately, IFAW has widened its activities to expand their support base and have therefore diverted more and more funds and energies into other animal causes. It clearly has become more profitable to speak out about seal hunts than to end them.

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13.7: The Namibian government offered a very cheap buyout of their sealing industry to IFAW when the industry was still in its infancy, but it never happened. Why? It seems that because IFAW didn't take this offer in 1990, the Namibian seal industry has been allowed to grow in the meantime, with ever increasing quotas. Does IFAW potentially have seal blood on its hands?

Hugo: Why IFAW refused that earlier deal needs to be addressed with them, as they refuse to answer my questions. IFAW does have seal blood on its hands. Three years later the industry invested $3.5 million in building new seal processing factories, hiring more staff, developing omega-3 seal oil, claiming health capsules and seeking pup quotas that have increased tenfold, from 9,000 to 85,000 pups. If we do not buy them out this time, $100 million profits from the skins of endangered seals will be invested in other animal cruelty industries.

13.7: What is the status of the other organizations that have been mentioned in this discussion, such as Humane Society International (HSI), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)?

Hugo: All have campaigned to end Namibia's seal hunt, all describe it as extremely cruel and a threat to the conservation of the species and all eventually supported my efforts to have the EU ban imports. All have appealed for donations in this regard from the members. The Humane Society alone has 11 million members. If each donated $1, this buyout could happen today.

13.7: Is there any prospect of getting one major donor to just put up the $14 million?

Hugo: If HSI asked its 11 million members to pledge $1 each or IFAW's members pledged $5 each, then either these two or a combination could come up with the buyout money very quickly. So yes, but to date they remain inactive and silent on the issue. Even requests to ask the CEOs to offer their supporters the option -- to each make up their own mind as to how they want their donations spent -- has fallen on deaf ears. There is a possibility of a donor such as De Beers coming forward. De Beers Executive Director Stephen Lussier has publicly stated that the company is opposed to culling and wrote to the EU in support of the ban, but only time will tell.

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13.7: According to the Atlantic Canadian Anti-Sealing Coalition, the Namibian seal hunt is the second largest commercial seal hunt in the world. Or is it the biggest -- according to your recent press release?

Hugo: It is now the largest. Although Canada awards a larger quota on a seal population -- six times larger -- it affects only 6% of the population as seals of all ages can be killed, except nursing seal pups which are banned from harvest. Namibia's sealing regulation requires sealers to only kill nursing pups with a club -- no shooting (considered more humane) is allowed. And the Namibian quota exceeds all surviving pups after natural mortality is factored in.

This past sealing season Canada killed 70,000 seals, and as the Namibian government claims that sealers average 93% of their quota, this year's quota of 91,000 will make the Namibian seal cull the largest in the world. Namibia is the only country whose cull is 90% seal pups. It is the last country on Earth to club nursing baby seals to death. Its seal imports were banned in the United States as far back as 1972, due to the cruelty factor of killing a nursing baby seal pup in a breeding ground.

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Reynard Loki is a New York-based artist, writer and editor. He is the environment and food editor at AlterNet.org, a progressive news website. He is also the co-founder of MomenTech, a New York-based experimental production studio whose projects (more...)

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