Namibian species to be sent to a Cuban zoo causes concern in the African nation
- Submitted by: manso
- 10 / 07 / 2011
Jana-Mari Smith.7 October 2011. Several animal health experts and conservationists have questioned the decision of a mass donation of wildlife from Namibia to Cuba.The translocation of an estimated 150 animals - said to include the 'big five' as well as a large number of other species.There are fears that certain wildlife species could be at serious risk,because of the travel distance and also due to the relocation to a tropical climate.
THE donation of Namibian wildlife to Cuba remains shrouded in secrecy even as Environment and Tourism Minister, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, assured this newspaper that the process would be strictly monitored on the home front as well as with the international trade organisation which monitors the trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora (CITES).
There are fears that certain wildlife species could be at serious risk,because of the travel distance and also due to the relocation to a tropical climate.
But these concerns were dismissed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) which is currently in the process of finalising the list of wildlife to be shipped to national parks in Cuba.
Nandi-Ndaitwah said this week that the project was undergoing extensive scrutiny by Cuban and Namibian veterinarian authorities, in order to ensure that the risks were managed properly.
She said the Ministry would heed the recommendations from the scientists "so that we make sure that the species we are sending there are those which can also stand the conditions in Cuba. Animals which cannot survive there, will not be sent there," she promised.
Dr Kalumbi Shangula, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, explained that "there is still negotiation on the species". He said the first consignment of animals to be sent was "still very, very far away. We will only start next year". He confirmed that the animals would be captured in Namibia's own game reserves and sent to Cuba's national parks.
Several animal health experts and conservationists have questioned the decision of a mass donation of wildlife from Namibia to Cuba.
A Namibian veterinarian also questioned the Government decision to "introduce alien species" to Cuba.
He accused the MET of being guilty of "double standards", as the donation conflicts with the MET's normally stringent opposition to allow the import of alien species into Namibia. But Minister Ndaitwah defended the decision, saying it is "not a double standard".
The Minister noted the initial 'wish-list' of 180 animals, which was whittled down to 146 by July, is constantly reviewed and trimmed, in line with risks to the animals and international and national standards and laws.
She said "our laws are also very clear when it comes to dealing with wildlife. We are very strict, we have committed ourselves to the CITES regulations, so there is always cross referencing between our own laws and CITES".
Shangula said "the list will only be finalised once all veterinary requirements have been agreed to between the Namibian and Cuban veterinary authorities".
Another conservationist and veterinarian said that while "game capture has come in leaps and bounds" in the past 20 years, and animal mortality and risk can be reduced significantly, the "whole question whether we should be sending our indigenous animals to Cuba .. becomes political. Personally, I don't agree. I think if people want to see gemsbok and kudu they should come to Namibia. I don't think our wildlife should be living in zoos in Cuba".
The decision to donate African wildlife to Cuba is allegedly linked to a visit to Cuba by Namibian Foreign Minister Utoni Nujoma in October 2010. During that visit, the Minister was reported by a Cuban newspaper as having promised "Namibia would donate wildlife for Cuban parks or zoos". Recently a delegation, mainly including officials of the MET, visited Cuba to follow-up on the pledge, but details on the trip remain scant.
According to reports, the initial promise to Cuba was to send a veritable 'Noah's ark' representing a wide array of Namibian wildlife, including elephant, rhino, buffaloes, leopards, cheetahs, springbok, rhino and common impala.
Dr Gabriella Flack, a veterinarian, this week said that "any animal anaesthesia carries with it associated risks". She pointed out however that there are several precautions and methods to ensure animal safety and to "reduce stress as much as possible."
She noted that regarding adaptation in Cuba, as far as temperature is concerned Namibia and Cuba are similar. However, "humidity there is significantly higher".
She said that "animals should ideally be transported at a time of year when it is cool both at the starting point and at the destination, but as the two countries are in different hemispheres that will not be possible". If the animals were shipped at the time of the Cuban winter this could reduce "the stress of climate acclimation on arrival". Flack said however that "once an animal acclimates ... they will be fine long-term even if the average temperature and humidity is different to that of their point of origin".