American Ambassador to Namibia Thomas Daughton has applauded Namibia for its anti-poaching efforts, saying the scale at which illegal poaching is occurring is much smaller than in other countries in the region.
However, he said, the number of animals poached, in particular rhino and elephant, raises concern.
“The U.S. government recognises Namibia’s efforts to protect animals from illegal poaching. For example, following the uptick in poaching early last year, we saw the government respond swiftly to thwart poachers by taking a variety of steps that appear to be having a positive impact on reducing the level of poaching in Namibia,” Daughton told New Era in an interview last week.
He said the U.S. stands ready to assist the Namibian government with assistance in areas they have identified as critical to counteract illegal poaching.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism on Thursday revealed that only seven rhinos were poached so far this year, and not 29 as recently reported.
The Environment and Tourism Minister, Pohamba Shifeta, said the seven rhinos were poached in Etosha National Park. He clarified that the rest of the poaching incidents reported were old carcasses of rhinos poached last year or the year before in Etosha National Park and Kunene Region.
Shifeta said six elephants have been poached so far this year. According to him, all the poached elephants were from the Bwabwata National Park.
“We are confident that the Namibian government will continue to protect its indigenous species. It is clear from our consultations with government officials that they realize the value of protecting Namibia’s animals for the future of the species, as well as for the economic benefit that the animals bring to Namibia through tourism tied to community conservancies,” Daughton acknowledged.
Further, Daughton said the Namibian government is “capably responding to halt” the increase in numbers of animals poached in the country.
He added that the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has identified areas in which the United States can share best practices, such as in investigating and prosecuting cases of poaching.
Shifeta said the ministry continues to work with the Namibian Police Force and other agencies in combating illegal hunting of wildlife and illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.
“Illegal hunting of wildlife, mainly rhinos and elephants, and trade in wildlife products in the country are a syndicate-based activity. It involves foreigners who are well linked to middlemen, who in turn use local communities to poach as they have good knowledge of the areas,” Shifeta noted. He said it is difficult to pinpoint those involved until the syndicates are well understood and their modus operandi exposed.
“We remain committed and we will ensure that these criminals are caught, but most importantly ensure that wildlife crime is prevented,” he reaffirmed. The U.S. ambassador said the four-country Africa trip by the U.S. congressional delegation was a resounding success and the delegation was particularly complimentary about seeing first-hand the successes evident in Namibia in a range of issues but especially in anti-poaching, which was a special interest of the delegation.
He said the U.S. visitors learned about the progress Namibia has made in protecting iconic wildlife species such as rhino and cheetah, as well as Namibia’s recovery in the numbers of animals over the past two decades.
“They heard from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism as well as from conservation NGOs that well-managed, responsible trophy hunting provides value to rural communities and conservation efforts,” he noted.
The U.S. delegation also called on the Botswana government to consider its ‘shoot to kill policy’ against suspected poachers, among them Namibians. But when asked if the U.S. government is prepared to take measures if Botswana doesn’t stop the ‘shoot to kill policy’, Daughton said: “As far as U.S. policy in Botswana is concerned, our embassy in Gaborone is best positioned to comment on that. What I can say is that we understand the Botswana Defence Force does not have a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy and only employs force as a means of self-defence.”