Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta says government does not have a policy to cage wild animals, which are declared “problematic”, hence it allows trophy hunting.
Shifeta’s remarks come amid outcries from critics, who feel it was wrong timing for government to allow controversial Texan hunter Corey Knowlton into the country last month to shoot his prized Namibian black rhino, while the country is experiencing unprecedented levels of rhino poaching.
Knowlton was also allowed to take his hunting trophy home to America.
The rhino hunt has been cloaked in controversy since Knowlton paid a whopping US$350 000 (N$4.2 million) last year to hunt a black rhino in Namibia at an auction held in Texas. This sparked international outrage among animal activists and wildlife groups.
Shifeta also explained that some rhinos, especially those in post-production phase, become problematic and kill calves because they are paranoid.
He defended the trophy hunting by saying the rhino was old and was going to die eventually due to old age. A rhino’s lifespan is 35 to 40 years.
Once the rhinos reach their lifespan they become vicious. So, in order to save calves, government puts the problematic animals on auction as trophies instead of eliminating them. The money generated in the sale is then invested in the conservation fund.
“If you leave it like that it will kill the calves, as it feels calves with chase it away. So once it becomes a problem animal, then you eliminate it. We don’t have a policy of caging animals, that’s the problem. If we had a policy, then maybe you could put all the problematic old animals and feed them. Our policy doesn’t allow caging that’s why we don’t have zoos. We want to have them moving naturally that is why we eliminated it and those millions could have been thrown away and we could only get the horn which we don’t know how much we are going to sell it,” he reacted to critics.
In fact, he said when government awards trophy hunting or uses the country’s natural resources like wildlife, it is guided by principles of sustainability and application of science.
Shifeta said a rhino horn can fetch up to N$600 000 per kilogram, due to the myth surrounding the use of the horn to cure certain aliments, especially among the Asians.
“Rhino horns are natural resources, what inflated the price in the market is myth. People believe so many things that do not exist. But it’s not really the value but the myth and it’s difficult to change their perception. For us, we don’t want a total ban; we are against that. We feel community members are looking after the animals so they should benefit from them, unlike other countries where animals are in zoos,” he stressed.
Regarding the legalisation of rhino horn trade in Namibia, Shifeta said, “We (government) have been against the total ban on selling rhino products, as long as we do it sustainably”.
He said the Constitution clearly states that “we have to harvest sustainably, Namibians have to benefit from natural resources”.
He also explained that should government put a total ban on the trading of wildlife products such as rhino and elephant, there would be a problem in effecting the Constitutional provision of Article 95.
Moreover, he said Namibia has been praised internationally for best practices in natural conservation.
“It’s like mining, but this one we have to do it sustainably. That is why the rhino population keeps growing. I must tell you, we have the largest population of black rhinos in the world. I cannot tell you where they are but we have the largest, almost half of the world’s black rhino population – we have it. That is why the measures we are taking are drastic in order to remain the largest population of rhinos,” he said.
According to the world statistics, the black rhino population now only stands at 5 000 worldwide.
Namibia is part of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – an international agreement signed by 175 governments, including one of the world’s major markets for illegal wildlife products – China.