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Cashing in on Asian seal penis craze (Namibia)


Namibia is the greatest legal exporter of mammal skins – mainly those of Cape fur seals – most going to Singapore and Hong Kong. Photo: Don Pinnock

More than 400 000 individual CITES-listed specimens were exported to Asia in just more than a decade.

Namibia not only exports the largest number of mammal skins to Asia, which predominately consists of seal skins, but is also one of the largest exporters of seal genitalia to these markets, where they are believed to be an aphrodisiac.

A new report by Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, says that more than 400 000 individual CITES-listed specimens were exported in just more than a decade from Namibia to Asia.

Namibia topped the trade for mammal skin exports, predominately those of Cape fur seals, with some 108 272 skins traded to seven countries and territories in Asia.

“Namibia was a significant exporter of skins, oil and genitalia sourced from the Cape fur seal to Asia,” the report says. “The most dominant trade is Cape fur seal skins, although there is substantial trade in other products derived from seals and it has been reported that the most profitable part of the seal is the genitalia, which is supplied to the aphrodisiac market.”

Hong Kong was the largest importer of Cape fur seal skins (62 417), followed by mainland China (40 843).

These countries were the only importers of genitalia, of which Hong Kong was found to import the most (2 470kg). Namibia issues seal hunting permits every year despite an outcry from conservation groups that brand the annual cull “a massacre for trade purposes”. Seal harvesting in Namibia targets roughly 80 000 seal pups and 6 000 adult bulls a year.

The genitalia, which include the testes and the penis, are usually dried and packed before being exported. In Asia it is believed that the genitals can cure impotence and enhance male sexual performance.

The penises can be sold for as much 220 pounds in gourmet restaurants in Beijing. Asian consumers, particularly athletes, also consume a beverage called Dalishen Oral Liquid that is made from seal penis and testicles, which they believe to be performance enhancing. Only three Asian countries imported seal oil, of which China was the largest, having imported between 23 850 and 31 640 litres of oil between 2008 and 2013. No oil imports were reported in 2014 and 2015.

Namibia also exported 736kg of Cape fur seal meat to Vietnam (440kg) and mainland China (296kg).

The report, which is the first of its kind, gives an analysis of CITES trade data and sheds light on legal trade trends and new patterns that are emerging. Although much of the trade is legal, all of the species in the study are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The report highlights significant changes and trends between 2006 and 2015, the most recent decade for which a fairly complete CITES trade dataset is available. According to the report, between 2006 and 2015 a total of 432 551 individual CITES-listed specimens were exported from Namibia to Asia. According to the report, exports from Namibia encompassed 11 species and two subspecies.

The highest trade volume by number was in the form of skins, which totalled 111 189 individual skins from seven species. The highest exports in kilogrammes were oil (23 850kg), tusks (11 255kg), ivory pieces (3 753kg), and genitalia (3 050kg).

The most common species whose skins were exported were Cape fur seals (108 272), followed by African crocodile (1 602) and Hartmann’s mountain zebra (1 245). All the crocodile skins and 200 of the Hartmann’s mountain zebra skins were from captive-bred animals, while the remainder of skins were from wild animals.

Only two countries imported crocodile skins: the Republic of Korea (800) and the Democratic Republic of Korea (800), while China was the largest importer of whole tusks exported by weight (7 502kg) and individuals (27) and Japan was the only importer of ivory pieces (3 753kg). All exports of African elephant ivory and tusks from Namibia were imported by China and Japan, most of which followed a once-off sale that was allowed by CITES.

Exports of elephant ivory from Namibia included tusks (11 255kg plus 38 tusks) and ivory pieces (3 753kg), all from wild animals.

The once-off sale permitted Namibia to export 9 210kg of government-owned raw ivory.

Using import and export databases, the report found that more than 1.3 million live animals and plants, 1.5 million skins and 2 000 tonnes of meat from CITES-listed species have been exported from Africa to Asia since 2006. Between 2006 and 2015, Asia imported a total of 3.4 million individual specimens of CITES-listed wildlife.

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