• As Namibia risks losing poaching war
• Farm owners accused of dehorning without notifying authorities
• Hosea Kutako airport the “weakest link”
The country’s biggest national park, which rakes in millions through tourist visits annually, has turned into a poaching haven.
All eyes are on Etosha, as the epicenter to the war on rhino poaching. Last month, seven rhino carcasses were found in Etosha National Park, bringing the rhinos poached this year to 45, official statistics indicate.
Villages surrounding the park such as Onamatanga, Utsatsima and Verda have been identified by the police as the most poaching-prone regions.
Countrywide, rhinos have been killed at the rate of four per month since the beginning of this year. Rhinos are killed for their horn which in 2014, could fetch around US$60 000(N$840 000 current exchange rate) per kilogram, with some reports quoting as much as US$100 000(N$1.4 million) per kilogram.
In its zeal to seal national parks and curb poaching activities, Cabinet recently approved the use of Unnamed Aerial Vehicles (UAV) for wildlife protection and law enforcement in national parks and other wildlife concentration areas.
Parks and Wildlife director Colgar Sikopo this week refused to reveal the type of measures the government has adopted to fight poaching in the country.
“I cannot tell you such things, if I do then the poachers will know what we are up to,” said a cautious Sikopo.
Regarding widespread claims that game wardens are involved in several poaching syndicates across national parks in the country, Sikopo said “if you have exact information surrounding that please bring it so that we can investigate it”.
Sikopo also dispelled claims that there are private farmers who dehorn rhinos on their farms without notifying the police or environment ministry.
Officials spill beans
Police sources have informed this publication that several farmers are suspected of being part of the poaching syndicate, as some carry out dehorning activities without notifying the authorities.
“Some of the farm owners only invite the veterinarian when they dehorn because the animal needs to be sedated,” said a source, who chose to remain anonymous.
Another source, who also spoke under anonymity, said Hosea Kutako International Airport poses a challenge to the police when it comes to blocking ivory from leaving the country. “With the arrival of additional airlines at the airport there is so much chaos because the capacity of the airport is too small. The airport authorities must increase the security presence at the airport to avoid such future embarrassments,” the source further said.
The source also indicted that a lack of continuous training of Police is another shortcoming in the poaching war.
Chinese nationals have in recent years been major players in the local poaching arena, often paying big money to locals for ivory products.
Last week a Chinese man was arrested in South Africa when he was found with 18 rhino horns worth R6.6 million, which had been smuggled from Namibia.
He flew from the Hosea Kutako International Airport where he avoided detection, only to be arrested by at the OR Tambo International Airport.
Ye Zhiwei arrived in Namibia on 11 November 2016 and took the first flight (SA73) out of Namibia at 06h40 on 23 November 2016.
According to his passport, which this publication has seen, Zhiwei only got his travel document on 28 October 2016 and it is due to expire on 27 October 2026.
The police officer on duty when Zhiwei smuggled the horns out of Namibia, Pendapala Abraham Iitula (42), appeared in the Windhoek Magistrate’s Court this week on a charge of defeating or obstructing the course of justice. He was granted bail of N$2 000.
Iitula was responsible for screening baggage going through Hosea Kutako International Airport when Zhiwei passed the check point but he failed to detect the 18 rhino horns, raising eyebrows that he might be part of a larger ivory trade network.
Sources claim that more arrests of police and customs officials are expected in the coming days.
The global wildlife trade body CITES estimates the Namibian black rhino population at about 1 800 to 1 900, or about 40% out of a worldwide population of 4 885 animals, including the last free-roaming southwestern black rhinos of southern Kunene. The largest concentration of black rhinos was in the Etosha National Park but the magnitude of poaching of rhinos, and other wildlife in the park, has only recently become apparent.
An aerial block count to verify Etosha figures has repeatedly been postponed due to a lack of funding, though the ministry recently acquired a new helicopter. One helicopter was, however, inadequate for patrolling Etosha’s 22 000 square kilometres; two fixed-wing aircraft previously used appeared to have become unserviceable due to lack of maintenance.
Namibia’s elephant population is currently between 20 000 to 25 000 elephants.
Approximately 30 percent of Africa’s elephants have been killed in the past seven years and around half of the remaining population is projected to be dead in the next decade, according to data from the Great Elephant Census conducted by Elephants Without Borders.
Each year, approximately 30 000 elephants are killed, and the African elephant could soon be locally extinct in some places, such as in parts of Cameroon.
In the north-eastern region of Namibia, 91 elephants were poached in 2015 compared to 78 in 2014. It is reported to date that 69 elephants have been poached this year mainly in the Zambezi and the Kavango regions.
Chief Public Relations officer at the ministry, Romeo Muyunda noted that Namibia,
including other African countries are experiencing unprecedented levels of rhino and elephant poaching.
Poachers rake in millions, according to the chief public relations officer. The involvement of local herdsman notably in the Omusati Region is being investigated.
“Wildlife trafficking is becoming a million-dollar criminal enterprise that has expanded to become more than just a conservation concern. The increasing involvement of organised crime in poaching and wildlife trafficking promotes corruption, threatens peace, strengthens illicit trade routes, destabilises economies and communities that depend on wildlife for their livelihoods,” Muyunda said.
The United States government recently availed more than N$7 million to assist Namibian authorities in their anti-poaching efforts.
The money will be used to assist the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s new anti-poaching training facility in the Waterberg Plateau National Park.