Poachers Hit Commercial Farms

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By Surihe Gaomas GOBABIS Fears are rife that poachers who hunt with impunity could decimate the wildlife remaining on commercial game farms after they have already decimated wildlife numbers on communal farms. The culprits either sell the meat or hunt for the pot. In the Omaheke Region, up to three to four such cases are reported to the Environment Tourism office in Gobabis every week, making poaching a very serious problem. In an interview with New Era last week, game ranger in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Gobabis, Helmuth Hill, said the situation of poaching was quite alarming, especially during hunting seasons. “Omaheke is the third biggest region in the country and it is the first when it comes to incidents of illegal hunting. Poaching is too much here, especially now that it’s the hunting season in July, August and September,” said Hill. Just on Wednesday this week, two farm workers in the Leonardville area were caught by environment officials after illegally hunting a warthog with spears and a pack of dogs in nearby farm camps. The two suspects appeared in the Gobabis magistrate’s court and are currently out on bail of N$200 each. In another incident on June 25, 2007, three employees of furniture shops in Gobabis were arrested along the Steinhausen Road after being caught hunting down two steenbok with company vehicles. The three accused were identified as 38-year-old Matheus Brandt, an employee of Furniture Mart, 37-year-old Mannetjie Tjiriange and 35-year-old Jors Albertus Coetzee, both employees of Ellerines. According to the police docket, the three men allegedly hunted the protected game with an illegally-owned .22 rifle with a booster telescope and loaded the animals onto a Toyota pick-up belonging to Ellerines. The rifle is said to belong to Frank Edward Hannibal from Khomasdal in Windhoek. Hill said that the trophy value of the illegally hunted game stands at nearly over N$3 000. The three accused are being held on charges of hunting protected game without a permit and also hunting on June 24, 2007 in the early morning hours at around 05h00-05h30. “If you are caught hunting without a night calling permit, then you will be arrested on the spot,” said Hill, adding that among the penalties the three men face are two years imprisonment or N$500 or six months imprisonment, or both. It appears that most resettled farms have fewer wildlife compared to those on commercial farms and people are poaching such game on commercial land as the value of game has increased due to game farms and trophy hunting. “The game is really affected, as offenders of such crime are using dogs, spears and wire snares to catch the animals. At first, wild animals had no value for people, but when they realized that a lot of money is being paid for such animals and the value is up, then poaching increased,” said Hill. For instance, according to professional trophy hunting standards, a warthog fetches US$300 or even close to US$400. The most frequently poached animals are not only warthogs, but kudu, oryx, hartebeest and steenbok – all these fall under the category of huntable game, but due to the ministry’s old Ordinance 4 of 1975 a person can get off with a lenient sentence of only N$300 fine if he admits guilt. Plans are under way by the ministry to change this law. Other protected game like elephants, mountain zebra, white rhino, blue wildebeest, bush buck and eland call for stiffer sentences. “The sentence or punishment really depends on the value, number of animals killed and the type of game,” said Hill. Once the game is confiscated, the environment officials donate the meat to institutions like the Epako Old Age Home, prisons and police for inmates’ feeding. Despite the shortage of staff (there are only three investigating officers), the Environment and Tourism office in Gobabis is trying all it can to root out poaching and even stock theft through ongoing patrols and working closely with cross-border officials in Botswana.