Namibia’s poaching crisis

> Timo Shihepo

WINDHOEK – MONEY has been spent, resources deployed and efforts have been made but the Namibian war on poaching is still just in its infancy with no end in sight.

   Yes, we are trying stop poaching but at the moment it’s just difficult and we are not fully equipped to tackle poaching head on,” an officer at Etosha National Park told The Southern Times late last year.

Such are the words that the public from the southern African country are accustomed to every time they ask government officials why poaching is so rampant in Namibia now and what are they are planning to do about it.

The answer really is that poaching in Namibia has always been on a high but due to lack of information the public perception is that poaching is a new phenomenon in Namibia, it really is not.

The public’s interest in poaching started becoming apparent in recent years and mainly due to high profile arrests. Those arrested included Namibian business personalities, government officials and Asians who are in Namibia under the guise of doing business in the country. Recently, an increasing number of Chinese nationals have been arrested trying to smuggle rhino horn, ivory and other poaching-related contraband like leopard skin out of the country.

Unlike many other African countries, like Kenya and Botswana who have already declared war on poaching, Namibia’s law enforcement is only starting to scruff out its ammunition for the poachers.

The Namibian Police Force’s anti-poaching operations only recently acquired an additional 18 dogs to be used in combating smuggling and poaching. The canines were bought from South Africa at a cost of R800,000.

The Southern Times has also learned that it is only this year that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is going to introduce a division dedicated to poaching, despite having started the process two years ago.  The division will be under the department of parks and wildlife management.

The police have also only now been ordered to shoot suspected poachers in self-defence.

Just like in many other countries, the poaching syndicate in Namibia also includes police officers and government officials who have ties to the international market, and in recent cases, China.

Environment and tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta has publicly criticised the fact that law enforcement agencies and the courts were not taking poaching as a crime, seriously. Shifeta has complained about the fact that those arrested for suspected poaching end up receiving bail, with some going back to committing the same crimes shortly after being released from police custody.

“Where there is money there are always temptations and it’s an unfortunate thing that some officials might be involved in the syndicate. We will not leave a stone unturned; we will find them. It’s bad that some are out on bail,” said Shifeta, while expressing his disdain to The Southern Times.

Rhino horn can fetch R826 000 per kilogram, with some reports of as much as R1.3 million per kilogram.

Another official at the Etosha National Park, who requested anonymity, noted that such ridiculous amount of money fuel poaching and that the amount will be enough to make everyone in the syndicate happy, including those doing the dirty job.

The official said it is a practice that poachers are willing to repeat even though they know that their lives will be in danger.

Police Chief Sebastian Ndeitunga has also admitted that the fight against poaching is “draining and costly”. He said the Namibian Police Forceis finding it challenging to eradicate poaching.

Alarming statistics released by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism have revealed that a whopping 160 rhinos have been slaughtered countrywide since 2015, with most incidences reported in the world-renowned Etosha National Park, Namibia’s flagship tourism attraction.

Latest statistics reveal that while the country is still struggling to curb elephant poaching, it however managed to reduce the rhino poaching by 35 percent in 2016.

“We are happy with the progress we are making on poaching and we have a plan to eradicate poaching completely. We are doing well with the rhinos but the elephants still remain a challenge. With the elephants, it’s a task that we are eager to overcome. In 2016, we have also had an 85 percent arrest rate of poachers,” said Shifeta.

And the good news is China has taken a giant leap to help countries like Namibia fight poaching. The Asian nation announced last week that it was banning all commerce in ivory by the end of 2017.

This is a move that would shut down the world’s largest ivory market and could deal a critical blow to the practice of elephant poaching in Africa.

Bad news however is that as long as countries have corrupt officials, illicit wildlife trafficking will persist.

January 2017
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