Illegal wildlife trade is the fourth most lucrative illegal trade in the world and Namibia is among its thriving hubs. The global black market for wildlife and wildlife products is estimated to be about US$20bn, ranking below drug smuggling, human trafficking and the illegal arms trade. Over the past four decades, more than 50% of the world’s wildlife has been wiped out.
In the past, the extinctions were largely due to loss of habitat by deforestation and destruction of natural environments but today it is also because of the burgeoning illegal wildlife trade. The growing demand for bizarre exotic dishes, trophies and trinkets, and misguided beliefs in traditional cures are pushing many species to the brink of elimination. Besides Namibia being a key link in the wildlife products smuggling route, it is not surprising that Namibia has also become a major source country for the illicit business.
According to Informante’s edition of 9 December 2015, in the last 10 years from 2005 a total of 103 rhinos were poached of which 66% were in 2015. The previous year alone about 80 rhinos (61 in Etosha) and about 40 elephants were confirmed to have been poached countrywide compared to 24 rhinos and 78 elephants the previous year. For the last three months, MET officials could not deny or confirm that about 12 more rhinos were poached since police operation expert Retired Commissioner Kashihakumwa retired from Nampol.
In Namibia, like most places in the world, the illegal trade in animals and their parts is still not seen as a crime that is serious enough, especially with the common acceptance of eating game meat and the traditional meaning of hunting.
But it is this attitude which allows criminal syndicates to use corruption and take advantage of the usually light sentences imposed to keep preying upon wildlife. It is a low-risk business with high returns that leaves only those at the lower levels like poachers and poor indigenous people getting caught, while the real crooks who rake in the big bucks get away scot-free (reference suspect profiling data).
According to the New Era edition of 12 May 2015 the Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta revealed that the number of police officers has been increased from 40 to 140 to ensure law enforcement presence in the game parks, with fully equipped vehicle patrols in addition to aerial patrols. Poaching operations also need more skilled manpower to be effective in catching poachers and operators of the illegal trade.
In addition to extending the scope of patrols the department’s special branch unit must be devoted to investigating online sales of wildlife and needs to be beefed up and expanded to relevant places. Intelligence and public support are the keys to combat the scourge of wildlife trading.