WINDHOEK - Despite the hefty fines and beefing up conservation efforts by government, wildlife trafficking continues at alarming rates, with 29 black and white rhinoceros poached from January to date.
Eight of the animals are white rhinoceros, of which six were poached on privately-owned properties and two in Etosha National Park.
Of the 21 black rhinoceros poached, 13 were killed in Etosha National Park and eight on custodian properties.
These alarming figures were revealed by Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism Bernadette Jagger during the national meeting on rhino security with Namibian farmers yesterday.
Last week, three suspects were arrested at Divundu in the Kavango East Region for illegal possession of three rhino horns, while one suspect was arrested at Katima Mulilo for illegal possession of five pairs of elephant tusks.
“I would like to take this opportunity to publicly condemn ill-intentioned activities of rhinoceros and elephant poaching and call upon all those involved to refrain from such activities or risk their chances of being caught and face the full wrath of the law, as for the arrest now at Divundu and Katima Mulilo,” she reacted.
She said unprecedented levels of elephant and rhino poaching across Africa - and Namibia is no exception - are being experienced and this threatens the future of these species and the ecosystem they inhabit.
In neighbouring South Africa, which is home to over 8000 rhinos, the police busted a six-person rhino horn trafficking syndicate that allegedly ran its own intelligence operation with at least two police officers in its ranks. The group were arrested in Mpumalanga, the Hawks said on Wednesday.
Jagger said this situation demands full implementation of the country’s current strategies and measures to curb illegal hunting.
She said poaching has severe economic implications through adverse impacts on tourism, trophy hunting and the conservation of the species.
She urged all Namibians to work together to protect the endangered game species.
According to her, wildlife trafficking has become a million-dollar criminal enterprise that has expanded to more than just a conservation concern.
Further, she said 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.
The number of black rhinoceros under custodianship has grown to such an extent that the programme has become its own source of animals for further translocation, and a few animals could even be translocated back to national parks as required.
The custodianship programme now hosts over 500 black rhinoceros on 23 sub-populations, which occur in numerous sub-populations from the Orange River all the way northwards to the Kunene.
“The strategic black rhinoceros’ translocations that have been carried out under the umbrella of the Black Rhinoceros Custodianship Programme since 1993 have not only realised the vision of expansion of range and the establishment of viable breeding populations of black rhinoceros, but also contributed to the stimulation of high-density populations in national parks, from which most of the animals have been sourced for the custodianship programme,” she noted.
Aligned with Namibia’s incentive-based conservation paradigm, the national Rhino Custodianship Programme was established in 1993 to facilitate the recovery of Namibia’s rhino population while allowing private landowners to become custodians over state-owned rhinos, the right to benefit through ecotourism.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism, in its Vision for Black Rhinoceros, projected that by 2030, the subspecies Diceros bicornis bicornis would be re-established in viable, healthy breeding populations throughout its former range, and sustainably utilised.
Although all black rhinoceros in Namibia remain state-owned, the programme enables private persons with land to apply for custodianship of black rhinoceros.
Jagger said after a rigorous screening process by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Protected Resources Division of the Namibian police to assess, amongst others, security threats and habitat suitability, approved custodians are to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the ministry, thereafter sharing responsibility of the animals.