The illegal poaching of rhinos and elephants in the country has reportedly been brought under control following a successful anti-poaching operation, in which the Namibian Police arrested 29 people allegedly involved in a trans-national poaching syndicate operating in Etosha National Park.
Although there has been no new cases of poaching reported in Etosha since the beginning of June, twenty-two of the suspects have already been charged with illegal hunting of rhinos and their case was postponed to July 30 in the Okahao Magistrate’s Court in Omusati Region.
Among the suspects is an Angolan national. Most of them were arrested in the areas of Onamutanga, Uutsathima, Iitapa and Otyenoa and many of them are related to each other.
The remaining seven accused were released due to lack of evidence.
Giving the latest updates on rhino poaching in the country, the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, last week said that Etosha, which recorded a whopping 54 cases of rhinos poached during May, is now guarded by the police under a senior officer.
The Bwabwata National Park and the Palmwag area in the Kunene Region are also now guarded by the police.
Shifeta said the huge crackdown on poachers follows the largest joint anti-poaching operation in June between environment ministry officials, the police and the Central Intelligence Service.
“This operation was led by a very competent and dedicated police regional commander of Oshana [Ndahangwapo Kashihakumwa]. Before we lauched the campaign, we tested strategies based on theories to ensure it does not fail hence it was a resounding success,” he said.
Unprecedented levels of rhino poaching have hit Namibia, which compelled the environment ministry during May to increase the reward to anyone with information on the latest incidences in Etosha, from N$30 000 to N$60 000.
Although Shifeta did not want to shed more light on whether the increased reward led to so many arrests, he said the incentive was working effectively.
“People of course come forward when they get credible information that could lead to any suspects. They get rewarded, but we don’t need to reveal them, it’s very dangerous. But they are coming and it’s working,” he told New Era.
Further, Shifeta revealed that two suspects were arrested in connection with two rhinos that were illegally killed at Iitapa village in Omusati Region during 2008.
Although he was hesitant to reveal any suspects’ names as it could jeopardise police investigations, he said 32 rifles potentially linked to poaching were confiscated from Etosha and its surrounding areas.
One of the rifles that had its serial number ground off was found in the possession of a former environment employee.
Meanwhile in Kunene Region, one black rhino cow was poached in Omatendeka conservancy on June 12. The animal was dehorned. Shifeta reported that five suspects were arrested by the police on the road between Warmquelle and Sesfontein in connection with the crime. The suspects were found with a gun and two fresh rhino horns.
Shifeta said two suspects were arrested last Wednesday in Erongo Region.
He further revealed that one elephant was shot and wounded by poachers in Bwabwata National Park on June 23 and had to be destroyed by game rangers.
“The poachers got away, but the police confiscated an AK-47, a R1 rifle and ammunition for a .375 hunting rifle,” he noted.
Additionally, a white rhino was poached on a private farm near Okahandja.
In another operation, three suspects were arrested in the Palmwag area. Rifles and ammunition were found in their possession and this brought the number of people arrested in connection with rhino poaching during June to 41.
“The authorities are investigating identified assets belonging to suspects for possible application of a preservation order in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA). The police are still pursuing some cases and more arrests are to be made. The operation will continue until all criminals linked to poaching have been brought to book,” he said.