PRESSURE on the United States government by animal rights activists to deny an import licence for a black rhino trophy could derail Namibia’s plans to use the record N$3,7 million raised in January by a Dallas Safari Club (DSC) black rhino hunt auction for conservation.
A statement from the DSC, Ministry of Environment and Tourism deputy director Elly Hamunyela wrote in an email that the money will be used “for law enforcement training, patrol vehicles and a national intelligence system crucial for protecting rhino population from criminal poaching”.
Some of the funds are earmarked for conducting a rhino census in the Etosha National Park.
According to the statement, the N$3,7 million will only be wired to Namibia “upon granting of the import permit” by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is being petitioned by animal rights groups to deny the permit.
Ben Carter, DSC executive director stated that “if the application is rejected, the ‘antis’ will trumpet victory, but the reality would be a setback for black rhino conservation”.
He explained that if the permit is denied and the hunter withdraws his bid, the Namibian government “still has to cull some rhinos, so it would simply auction the hunting permit to someone else – probably for less … That means less funding for the project, and less funding for law-enforcement to protect the rhinos from poachers”.
“A black rhino in Namibia is going to be hunted, period. It’s a biological, practical necessity. The only question is how to make it as meaningful as possible from a financial standpoint to the larger issue of species survival,” Carter said.
The total proceeds from the auction of the permit to hunt the rhino will go to the Namibia Game Products Trust Fund, and will be distributed among a number of rhino conservation projects.
One of these projects involves the immobilisation of rhinos to fit them with security devices and to conduct DNA typing. On average this operation costs between N$19 500 and N$25 000 per animal. Namibia aims to immobilise approximately 100 rhinos a year. Hamunyela added that the ministry aims to put “a lot of effort into capacity building of our staff, formal and in-service training, equipping our staff with up-to-date equipment, and making use of technology, including unmanned aerial vehicles, closed-circuit television surveillance and radio-frequency identification tags”.
While Namibia’s black rhino population is seen by scientists as relatively strong and robust, and has doubled since 1990, Hamunyela said that officials are worried that Namibia could be the next target of poachers, who are currently decimating South Africa’s rhino population.
“To counter this and make Namibia a non-sought-after rhino poaching destination, we need all the assistance we can get. Namibia is not in a position where the government can make vast amounts of funding available on the short term,” Hamunyela said.
She said Namibia’s rhino population is growing by five percent annually but it is still vulnerable to poachers, especially in view of MET’s limited funding and resources.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has granted Namibia an annual export quota of up to five hunter-taken black rhinos.
This year, Namibia made headlines when one such permit was auctioned in the US. The decision was praised and equally criticised locally and internationally.
The auction realised the highest amount of money in bids for a black rhino hunt in Namibia to date.
The highest bid during an in-country auction was N$2,4 million, according to the DSC.