In an effort to curb an upsurge in wildlife crimes, Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta says no private guns would be allowed into national parks following a series of illegal poaching of rhinos and elephants.
Not all carcasses of rhinos and elephants that have been found since the beginning of 2015 showed signs of poaching, Shifeta has revealed.
He said some of the animals could have died due to natural causes while some died fighting among themselves. “Some of them it is because of fighting. They fight a serious fight. That is why we have to conduct post mortems on all the carcasses to determine the causes of death,” he said.
About 60 rhinos were found in the Etosha National Park, while six were found in the Palmwag area in the Kunene Region since the beginning of this year.
Poaching figures have shown that last year, 24 rhinos and 78 elephants were killed. This, after an extended period of low wildlife crime in Namibia.
Shifeta is, however, not convinced that the environment and tourism wardens have not detected or arrested anyone in the parks.
He said some carcasses were found close to each other, hence they have to do ballistic investigations to see whether the bullets are coming from ministry riffles or not.
Shifeta said he found out that people have been entering the park with private guns – a situation he says creates room for poachers.
“Currently, we started to test all the rifles. I heard there are people with private guns and I said no private guns anymore on the premises. We are going to get there and we are going to arrest a lot of people. If you have a gun, keep it away from the park. Leave your gun at the police station, they welcome to keep your gun even up to 10 years. I could see resistance, especially some ‘white colleagues’ saying that they are not the ones doing it. I told them I don’t know who is doing it. What they do is seal their guns, but you can use and seal it later,” he said.
With the poached rhinos in Etosha, he said some carcasses are too close to the gate for officials, including a huge presence of law enforcement officers, not to have detected any poaching.
“How can incidences happen next to the gate undetected? Some happen next to the waterholes but no one detects them. It is like someone taking money under your pillow while you are there. I want to understand, how can these people be from outside? I want a report, although we already suspect people inside,” he demanded.
He said poaching is mainly concentrated in the the north and south west of the country.
“I went there and the situation looks normal to them. I asked them: ‘Do you really understand what the public feels’? It’s an area that is fenced, but you have not captured anyone and you don’t have new ideas. You go to bed and you have no idea. I warned them they should not be surprised if this week we make a serious move there with immediate effect … The situation cannot be left uncontained,” he reacted.
Shifeta said there is a clear requirement for a strategy to upgrade law enforcement and wildlife crime prevention capacity in the country, as well as for immediate action that should be part of, and feed into, the overall strategy.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been working with other law enforcement and conservation agencies to put short- and long-term strategic measures in place to stop poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. The measures involve issues of human capacity, surveillance, patrolling and detection.
Currently, members of the Namibian Police Force (NamPol) have been deployed in the Etosha National Park, the Bwabwata National Park and the Palmwag tourism concession area. NamPol and the Namibian Defence Force are also conducting regular aerial patrols.
Shifeta assured that investigations would continue in all areas where illegal hunting of rhinos and elephants were reported.
“We continue to invest more resources in combating illegal hunting of our rhinos and elephants. The situation can be described as a priority crime and therefore more resources need to be invested in our efforts to stop these illegal activities,” he added. – Additional reporting by Nampa