By Ellanie Smit
War veterans could soon form the backbone of an anti-poaching unit that is set to tackle the escalating annihilation of wildlife in the country.
And their specialised skills, including tracking through the bush and their expertise with various weapons, could prove valuable in the battle against poachers.
This has emerged from a report on rhino poaching that was discussed in Parliament last week and made several recommendations on how to combat the poaching crisis in Namibia.
The report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economics, Natural Resources and Public Administration recommended that war veterans should be recruited as game guards to protect Namibia’s wildlife.
The committee said it was alarmed by the increase in poaching of endangered wildlife in Namibia and that poachers seem to be operating with impunity.
Over the past few years the number of elephant and rhino poaching cases in Namibia has escalated from only a few cases to an alarming 78 elephants and 24 rhinos in 2014.
The Minister of Environment and Tourism, Uahekua Herunga, yesterday told Namibian Sun that the training, skills and experience of war veterans would be valuable in the planned anti-poaching unit.
The unit will consist of about 400 members. Training will be provided by the Namibian Defence Force and the police.
“In my opinion the experience of former veterans will be an added bonus to the unit, said Herunga.
He specifically referred to their military training and tracking experience.
But Herunga was quick to add that it is not the government’s intention to give preference to war veterans in recruiting the anti-poaching unit.
“War veterans, just like all other Namibians, need jobs and everyone in the unit will be thoroughly trained, but their previous experience would be an added advantage.
Herunga said the ministry was still waiting for the Public Service Commission to ap
prove the structure of the anti-poaching unit.
“We are just waiting for the go-ahead from the Commission and then it will just be a matter of paperwork before it will be up and running.
Herunga said it is expected that the unit will be functional by June this year.
Earlier this year the ministry said a lack of manpower was the biggest challenge in the fight against organised crime syndicates that are decimating Namibia’s elephant and rhino populations and that it urgently needed to get “boots on the ground.
Ruusa Malulu of the Namibia National Liberation Veterans Association (NNLVA) agreed that it would be a good idea to use war veterans to protect wildlife.
She agreed that their skills and training would be an advantage but added that many veterans might be too old and could rather train other game guards or trackers.
“It is a good idea, but they are just the same as every other Namibian and should be considered the same, she said.
The report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee also pointed out that the first rhino poaching case in the Kunene Region was in 2012 just after the Oshakati-Opuwo road was built.
“Partners in development create a ready market for rhino horns, says the report.
The report further said that poaching is high in areas where immigrants settle, and recommended that the Ministries of Justice and Home Affairs should initiate an extradition agreement with the government of Angola in order to combat cross-border wildlife crimes.
The report further recommended the Ministry of Environment and Tourism should accelerate the drafting in legislative changes to improve the enforcement of the law and preventing the escalation of poaching.
The report also highlighted the fact that the police’s Protected Resources Unit is not represented in the Kunene Region.