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By Eleanor Momberg
The annual Namibian seal cull has been put on hold for two weeks, pending the possible sale of the seal industry to a South African seal rescue organisation.
Francois Hugo of Seal Alert-SA was this week approached by the only remaining purchaser of Namibia's seal skins and pelts with a suggestion that he and the remaining sealers be bought out.
Hugo is now trying to raise the cash to make a purchase that would save thousands of Cape fur seals from the killing fields and could see their possible return to their natural island habitats.
The offer to sell their total stake in the sealing industry to Seal Alert-SA comes only weeks after Russia banned seal killing and the European Union banned the import of all seal products, including that of the Cape fur seal.
The Canadian government is considering proposed legislation that would also see an end to seal culling there.
If seal killing is banned in Canada, Namibia would be the only country in the world continuing with the clubbing to death of 85 000 seal pups and shooting of 6 000 bulls for their genitals.
Hugo had earlier questioned how the Namibian government could continue to defy all animal protection laws that stated clearly that to beat an animal to death was cruel and criminal and maintain the decriminalisation of these acts through regulations which commercialised the country's seal industry.
The seal conservationist met with Namibian authorities, including Prime Minister Nahas Angula, in 2007 to appeal for an end to the annual seal cull after it emerged that the country's seal population had decreased dramatically because of the cull and a mass die-off.
This year's seal culling season would have started on Wednesday.
But that is now on hold for two weeks while the concessionaires granted licences in 2007 to kill their annual quota of the marine mammal, the only remaining buyer and Seal Alert finalise a deal that would end the killing.
Hugo recently launched an international campaign to expose and pressure the Hatem Yavuz Group, Namibia's only remaining seal skin buyer, with offices in Australia, Turkey, Russia and South Africa, to stop its imports from the south-west African country.
Yavuz was the sole purchaser of seal fur skins from Namibia in 2008 when he received a total of 23 000 pelts. Concessionaires had been unable to fill their quota last year, and had called off the seal hunt only weeks after it started.
The Australian-based fur dealer had been unable to sell most of last year's stock of furs, skins and 130 tons of seal oil.
He was being pressured by the Namibian government to place an order for this year's harvest.
Despite the Namibian government confirming that Yavuz was the purchaser of this year's consignment of furs, Yavuz has said that he had already stopped the purchase of Namibian seal products because of the present economic climate.
The two concessionaires had also indicated that it was no longer viable for them to continue in the industry.
"The world market for seal skins, particularly Namibian Cape fur seal skins, is dead, but Namibia refuses to announce an end to its cruel seal clubbing policies," said Hugo.
This week Yavuz and the concessionaires contacted Hugo and asked him to purchase Namibia's sealing industry "lock, stock and barrel".
This meant buying up all the remaining furs, all contracts, the processing factories in Namibia and Turkey, and creating full-time jobs for those set to lose their part-time annual income.
Hugo said talks were already under way, but that he wanted to bring interested parties such as the Dutch government, which had been instrumental in securing the EU ban, De Beers, which had expressed its displeasure with the culling of seals, and potential financiers on board.
"I want this to be a success story and not just a private business deal," he said.
"But, it takes money. Seal Alert-SA is appealing for any financial partners to come forward to help make this deal a reality."
Hugo said he had been given an undertaking by Yavuz that if this sale went through he would "walk away from the fur industry worldwide".
Seal Alert-SA planned to turn the sealing factories in Namibia into seal museums for tourists after ending the seal cull.