Rhino poaching crisis escalates


 Windhoek – Namibia has started dehorning rhinos in national parks and commercial farms in an effort to preserve some of the world’s few remaining pachyderms from poachers, who have slaughtered 14 this year alone.

Dehorning is being conducted in Namibia’s Kunene and Omusati regions, in the north east of the country as well as Erongo, in the western parts of the country, in areas “more risky” to rhinos, Pohamba Shifeta, Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, said in an interview.

“We have 14 black rhinos killed by poachers this year alone. Rhino poaching has risen dramatically that is why we have to take some immediate and drastic measures,” Shifeta said. “This dehorning exercise is also underway at commercial farms, which are custodians of the black rhino but they are doing it under supervision of ministry officials. The horns will be kept under government custody,” Shifeta said.

Namibia would seek consent from Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, before selling the stockpiled rhino horns. “We are going to harvest as many rhino horns as possible, it’s an ongoing exercise,” Shifeta added.

Namibia has a population of 1 750 black rhinos and 469 white rhinos, according to Savetherhino.org. Between 1970 and 1992, about 96 percent of black rhino in Africa was lost to poachers with a global population of 4 800 remaining, according to WWF. Black rhino is native to Africa as are bidder white rhinos.

Rhino horns are smuggled to East Asia where they can fetch as much as US$95 000 per kilogram. They are believed to cure cancer and improve libido.

Namibia, which claims to have the highest global rhino population, is readying a “300-strong dedicated anti-poaching unit” made up of security services to combat poaching in poorly policed remote national parks.

“Until this unit is deployed, we don’t have personnel in parks, so far we rely on people who serve as guardians to the animals, they report suspected poachers’ movements and poaching incidents,” Shifeta said.

“The poachers we are dealing with appear to be well trained and they know how to manoeuvre, they also find it easy in the national parks as there are no security personnel,” he added.

The ministry would ask for additional financing as the anti-poaching unit was not included in the 2014 budget allocation, Shifeta said.

In addition to deploying an anti-poaching unit made up of law enforcement agencies, Namibia is also deploying drones to support the army’s efforts in combating poaching.

“We have acquired drones and we have completed a pilot (testing) programme. We are working with law enforcement agencies on the implications of their deployment. They are not yet fully deployed,” Shifeta said.

Rhinos are darted from a helicopter and while under anaesthesia, a chainsaw or handsaw is used to cut the horn off horizontally. During the process, eyes and ears are covered to prevent noise from the saw and the stump is trimmed to remove excess horn at the base, then smoothened and covered with tar to prevent cracking and drying.

Rhino dehorning is a very expensive exercise but government has no choice, Shifeta said.

While there is a risk that the horn will grow back over time or poachers will kill the rhino in acts of vengeance, this is seen as one of the ways to preserve the world’s few remaining rhinos.

Apart from dehorning, other forms which are some African governments are considering in the battle against poachers is poisoning the horn or dying it.

Poachers have killed 43 elephants this year alone in Namibia, Uahekua Herunga, Environment and Tourism Minister, said while opening Mangetti National Park, in Kavango West, according to Namibia Press Agency.

“The current illegal activities in the country clearly need to be rapidly brought under control,” Minister Herunga said. Namibians are not reaping the benefits of their poached wildlife, as there is no local market for rhino horn and elephant tusks.

“Our people are being misled by international syndicates, and they just get pennies,” Minister Herunga claimed.

October 2014
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