Namibia plans to trap and send some 150 wild animals, possibly including cheetahs, to Cuba / Photo: BigStock

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

“The earth is not ours,” the Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism told a group assembled at a country club earlier this month. “It is a treasure we hold in trust for future generations.”

During the same speech given at the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Gala Dinner, Hon. Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said, “As you may all know by now, Namibia has decided to donate some game to the Republic of Cuba and the process of capture has started.”

According to the National Council of the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) in neighboring South Africa, Namibia will take some 150 animals of a variety of species from the wild and transport them across the Atlantic to El Parque Zoológico Nacional de Cuba, the Cuban national zoo.

Species will include “elephant, large carnivores, small predators, antelope and vultures,” reported the NSPCA, which is highly critical of the “Noah’s Ark II project,” as it is known. The group believes that “plans are to relocate the first animals to Cuba by air by October 2012.”

Some observers speculate that the animals are part of quid pro quo compensations to Cuba for its military support of Namibia’s fight for independence from South Africa, which ultimately came in 1990. Costs for the project have been estimated at about one million U.S. dollars.

“The cheetah will be part of the package going to Cuba,” said Nandi-Ndaitwah in reference to one of the species of animals to be exported. “That will enable our comrades in Cuba to appreciate the elegance of the Namibian cheetah first-hand while recognizing the great wealth of wildlife that exist in Namibia.”

Animal welfare groups’ opinions differ

“The NSPCA expresses its disgust at the Namibian government’s decision to capture animals from the wild for transportation to Cuba,” the group stated on its website. “These animals will be taken out of their natural habitats and sent to a strange land where they will be deprived of freedom and be totally dependent on humans for their daily needs.”

NSPCA Wildlife Inspector Isabel Wentzel told Animal Issues Reporter (AIR) in an email interview, “There is no value at all [to the project] as there is not any education value behind capturing and removing of animals from the wild to be incarcerated for the rest of their lives. There are enough animals born in captivity all over the world which makes the removal of these animals from the wild unnecessary.”

Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), an animal welfare group operating in Namibia, sees it differently. Patricia Tricorache, CCF assistant director of international programs told AIR via email, “From a conservation education perspective we believe that zoos play a very important role in educating people about the importance of wildlife for the health of ecosystems. We are certain that the National Zoological Park of Cuba is no exception and are happy that Namibia’s incredible natural wealth will be shared with the Cuban people.”

However, Tricorache added, “as far as we know, it is not definite that all the animals in the Noah’s Ark II project will be caught from the wild. We are recommending that the governments take cheetahs that live in captivity already so as not to take them from the wild.”

Meanwhile the NSPCA essentially called for boycott of tourism to the east African country: “Considering the inhumane culling of seals taking place in Namibia at the moment and the world-wide outcry, this latest action by the Namibian government and its Ministry of Environment and Tourism raises serious concerns regarding this country’s stance on animal welfare.  Perhaps something for animal lovers to consider when considering Namibia as a holiday destination.”

AIR’s numerous emails and telephone calls requesting comment from the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism have not yet been answered.

Also on this topic:

Drugs and high stress could kill wildlife captured and exported by Namibia, says NSPCA

Coming up soon:  Interview with Cheetah Conservation Fund

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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for  outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, The San Francisco Chronicle, Travelers’ Tales, NBC’s, and (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.

Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).