Sunday, 11 December 2016

459 | Chinese predation - African penguins face a new threat


Dubious Chinese-owned companies want to capture Namibian penguins, dolphins, and killer whales for Asian aquarium and zoo trade.

African penguin / Photo by Dr. J. Kemper

Up till now the demand for animal parts, such as rhino horn, to be used in traditional Chinese medicine, spurred poaching in Namibia and too often this traffic lead to China. And as if this were not sad enough, there is now growing demand for especially live marine wildlife, to fill China's exploding theme park industry. Although the practice of capturing wild animals for captivity is viewed worldwide as illegal and in contravention of international conventions, China has currently 39 marine parks, from massive facilities to tiny tanks in shopping malls and another 14 are under construction. This leads to a worrying high demand for live cetacean species.
Since late September 2016, the Namibian Fisheries Ministry is considering a proposal by Welwitschia Aquatic and Wildlife Scientific Research (registered in Namibia but owned by a Chinese businessman) in partnership with Beijing Ruier Animal Breeding and Promoting Co. (Chinese company), requesting the capture and export of endangered 10 orcas (killer whales),  500 - 1000 Cape fur seals, 50 - 100 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, 50 - 100 common bottlenose dolphins, various sharks and 300 - 500 African penguins to China.
These companies have offered N$ 30 million for the deal, however, all these species are registered as protected species by the Namibia Marine Resources Act and several of these species, such as orcas and African penguins, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making it illegal for any entity to capture and export them.
The proposed "harvest" of many of the listed species, motivated by the false statement that Namibian waters are stocked with "abundant marine lives", could wipe out Namibia's populations of these animals, since for example fewer than 100 common bottlenose dolphins inhabit Namibian waters, but the Chinese list a request to capture up to 100 a year.
Even the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), also known as the jackass penguin and the only penguin species that breeds in Africa, confined to Namibian and South African waters, is an endangered species.
The African penguin has experienced rapid population declines in the past. Roughly 4 million African penguins still existed in 1810. Exploitation for food, fuel to supply ship boilers and for fat reduced their numbers down to about 1.5 million in 1910. The rapid population decline of the penguin to some 50 000 between 1910 and 2010 is largely attributed to overexploitation of eggs, habitat loss of nesting sites through the extraction of guano deposits, oil spillage and competition with commercial fishing for food resources.

Oil covered penguin Photo by Dr. Kemper

Today the global population roams around 50 000 from which 5500 breeding pairs live in Namibian waters.
Given an annual rate of decline of about 2% per year, there is considerable concern about the long-term viability of African penguins in the wild.

Apparently this catastrophic collapse in numbers is not yet worrying enough, since already before any authorization for the capture request is granted, the new threat, the "Chinese predation", lurks in the form of the Russian whaling vessel, Ryazanovka, in Namibia's main harbor Walvisbay since August this year. This vessel is manned by a Chinese crew but even more disturbing is the fact that the Ryazanovka is known to have been involved in the controversial capture of orcas in the Sea of Okhotsk in eastern Russia some years ago.

What causes frustration and heavy criticism locally and globally is the fact that the Namibian Fisheries Ministry is dragging their heels on this issue instead of just not to consider this proposal, which in any case has a lack of scientific relevance.

Herewith BirdsConTour and its readers worldwide urge that in the interest of responsible resource management, Namibia's penguins and other affected wildlife and the country, the application be denied.
The grant of a permit for this request would have a devastating effect - not only for the captured animals but potentially for the Namibian marine ecosystem and for the Namibian tourism branch as well.

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