Namibian authorities have confirmed they are capturing scores of wild elephants that were sold at auction for export. Authorities would not say which countries they will be sent to, only that China is not one of them.
Wildlife conservationists have criticized the government's secrecy on the deals and the exporting of the animals.
Namibia's minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism this week defended the government's capture of wild elephants for export, despite a veil of secrecy on the buyers.
Pohamba Shifeta said Namibia's growing elephant herds, numbering around 24,000, are causing human-wildlife conflict.
"What we have done is to auction animals that were earmarked because they were causing conflict amongst communities," Shifeta said. "We identified those herds to be auctioned. They were 170 altogether in different communities because they were destroying properties in the community and even contributing to the loss of human lives."
Shifeta said Namibia is seeing a surge in human-wildlife conflict. But wildlife conservationists dispute the value of exporting elephants to deal with the issue.
Audrey Delsink, wildlife director for Humane Society International, said the lack of transparency on the elephants' buyers raises concerns that the sales could violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES.
"Elephants do not belong in captivity, and we would welcome some transparency on this issue and some evidence from the Ministry to that effect," Delsink said. "There are humane solutions to mitigate both for human-elephant conflict and for population control of elephants."
The ministry, in a February 15 press statement, said 20 of the 170 elephants sold were still to be captured, pending permits from CITES.
Shifeta disputed speculation that the elephants would be sold into captivity.
"We are signatories to CITES and we are aware of the international statutes, the international law that governs CITES member states. Our law does not allow an animal to be exported to a country where we know the environment is not conducive for this animal," he said.
Namibia auctioned off the elephants to three buyers last August, but authorities would not say who purchased the wild animals.
The environment ministry denied that China was one of the buyers, after concerns were expressed about how animals exported to the Asian country were treated.
But the ministry said the buyers would be required to meet certain criteria, such as keeping the elephants in an area with game-proof fences.
Authorities acknowledged the elephants were being rounded up for export after Namibian journalist John Grobler was detained for recording images of the captured animals.
"There is going to be a CITES meeting in Lyon, France, early March where this issue will be addressed but it is a highly contentious one to say the least," Grobler said. "You do not send wild caught elephants into another continent to a zoo if you are really doing conservation."
The CITES agreement for Namibia indicates live elephants should stay in African conservation programs but is also subject to interpretation by scientific authorities of importing countries.
Some information in this report came from Reuters.