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

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Hugo: I work with and against anybody who is involved with seals, good or bad. My loyalty, cause and case is only to the seals. If people or organizations are working positively towards the seals, I work with them -- mostly in supplying all with data never before revealed. And in regard to those people or organizations against seals, I expose, question and attack.

13.7: It seems that seal hunting has received more and more worldwide condemnation recently -- from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's remarks to the EU ban on seal products to the United States Senate resolution denouncing the Canadian seal hunt. But do bans really work? Even though there is an international ban on commercial whaling, whales are still being slaughtered.

Hugo: Bans are effective because they prevent complete species annihilation. The greater the ban, the less annihilation. But equally it does little to address the wrongs of the past. For example, banning seal-clubbing on the mainland will not get seals back on their original habitat or evolutionary path.

13.7: Do you feel that within Namibia, there is a growing opposition to seal hunting?

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Hugo: Yes, the very fact that the media in Namibia has been so supportive says a million words, or the fact that the prime minister agreed to meet me about the issue. It was probably the first time a prime minister anywhere in the world has sat done with someone directly campaigning against the government and had a chat. The buyout has seen many Namibians pledge thousands of Namibian dollars to buyout the sealers -- and that says everything.

13.7: You've said that tourists who come to see the seal colonies do not realize that the country also kills these seals hours before tourists arrive at the colony to view them. So Namibia is profiting from both sides of the issue, so to speak. Can the country transition fully towards seal conservation if the seal hunt is shut down, and will that revenue make up for the lost sealing revenue?

Hugo: That is right. Sealers enter colony at 5:00 AM, kill baby seals, load the dead pups in trucks and leave the colony by 9:00 AM. The government then opens the colony at 10:00 AM to paying tourists. There are warning signs that read, "Do not disturb the seal colony and help us to protect this unique seal colony." Clearly the government is hiding its seal-culling activities. Not a single travel Web site mentions the seal cull. Blood on the beach or dead pups is blamed on jackals. The Namibian government earns over $9 million a year from 100,000 tourists paying to see seals in the wild. From the sealing industry it earns $50,000. Should seal culls stop and the government allows seals to return to the banned original islands, these islands would thrive, increasing tourists' viewing pleasure, and could develop, for example, shark cage diving around seal colonies, which in South Africa generates over $200 million a year.

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13.7: If Seal Alert-SA is able to buy out the Namibian sealing industry and you shut it down, what do you plan to do with the two seal processing plants and have you thought about keeping them up as a museum so that people can remember the horror of this bloody industry?

Hugo: Exactly, they would be turned into a museum, will all funds raised going to proper seal conservation and protection and research. The Namibian sealing industry in their offer have undertaken to make this a reality, if the deal is concluded, and would in fact contribute to the museum.

13.7: If this buyout works, could it provide a blueprint for future buyouts of similar industries and prove that conservation can be taken privately, outside the control of governments? If so, that's a new kind of market-based conservation initiative.

Hugo: Hunting and mainstream conservationists have always had the "If it pays, it stays on Earth" approach. The only difference is that the words "hunt" and "kill" are replaced with "free" and "no-kill." Private business has already taken the control away from the government to hunt. It's time we turn this around to not hunt. We forget nature is all around us. Water, food and even conversation used to be free. Now we pay for calls, buy food and even bottled water. So why not pay for seals to be wild and free instead of dead and skinned? We franchise soda water like Coke. Why not franchise seals? Companies are taking out DNA patents on seeds and plants. Why not commercialize seals in a positive way?

I have always believed companies should list on stock exchanges offering returns in life, where investors invest in life and their own future. Had such companies done so, they would have owned the rights to seal viewing, shark cage diving and seal conservation and protection, generating millions in profits without any need to kill, offering a business and a final alternative to killing. It's already there, profitable and proven, and carries little or no overhead or staff, forever growing. It's just currently fragmented. I have never understood why these big anti-seal hunt groups have never invested in eco-tourism.

13.7: It seems that the Namibian government is happy to continue the seal hunt as long as it is lucrative. Is there any opposition within the government to end the hunt permanently?

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Hugo: That you will have to ask them, for I have seen no evidence of any support to end it.

13.7: The majority of Canadians oppose the seal hunt in their country. What does the average Namibian think of the hunt in theirs?

Hugo: Namibia is the least populated country on Earth living in the oldest desert. Most didn't even know about it until I told them.

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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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