In the Sunday premiere of the new reality-television series The Operatives, a group of environmental commandos sneak onto a Namibian diamond mine site to video baby Cape fur seals being clubbed to death. The government-sanctioned cull kills more than 80,000 pups a year. In Operatives’ leader Pete Bethune’s new Captain’s Vlog (video above), he offers details on his plan to stop the slaughter.
The team is collecting signatures for a petition demanding an end to the cull that Bethune will present to the West African country’s parliament. The idea: International tourism is worth nearly a billion dollars a year to Namibia. If overseas visitors stay away out of revulsion over the brutal killing of seal pups, it’ll pressure the government to halt the hunt and the export of seal pelts.
That trade brings in $500,000 at most to Namibia, according to environmental groups, but it has proved lucrative to China, where the pelts are made into expensive coats, hats, and other clothing.
Why China? For one thing, it still allows the import of seal skins. The United States banned the seal fur trade in 1972, and the European Union imposed a ban in 2009.
Namibia and Canada are the only countries that permit baby seals to be clubbed to death, and along with Greenland, they account for 60 percent of the 900,000 seals slaughtered annually, according to a European Commission report.
Chinese outfits such as the Nanjing Cape Fur Seal Import & Export Trading Company act as the middleman in the Namibian trade. The company bills itself as “the representative office in China authorized by the government in Namibia” and offers such services as the import of fur seal leather, oil, meat, and penis.
Bull fur seals are killed for their genitals, and the company touts the supposed but unproved medicinal benefits of seal penis. “The wonderful pharmaceutical effect of have gained high comments from previous doctors in dynastic period,” the company states on its website. “Their price is quite high, that can be compared with gold.”
Closer to home, the Canadian website Always in Vogue hawks seal fur mittens ($274), seal fur purses ($725), seal fur pillows ($229), and even seal fur bow ties ($46.) That seal fur is most likely sourced from Canada’s domestic slaughter.
“Never go to Namibia as a tourist,” says Bethune. “If you know someone contemplating going there, tell them to go somewhere in Africa where they do actually care about their wildlife.”
New episodes of The Operatives air Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Pivot TV.