Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism Tommy Nambahu is concerned about the rate at which suspected poachers of endangered rhino are being granted bail, saying it defeats the purpose of the ministry’s anti-poaching activities.
He feels suspected poachers should be refused bail, if Namibia is to win the fight against poaching of endangered wildlife such as rhino and elephant.
“Criminals out there: be warned. We will not leave any stone unturned. We are going to sharpen our weapons. Don’t come up with these kinds of stories that you need bail, because your wife is pregnant while you are in the dock.
“When you were poaching did you not realise that you had a pregnant wife or what?” Nambahu fumed on Friday when he received equipment for anti-poaching activities worth N$10 000 from Bushwhackers.
Last year, Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta also questioned the conduct of prosecutors who recommend bail for suspected poachers, while investigations are still ongoing. He said it is frustrating for law enforcement officials who are working tirelessly to nab poachers when prosecutors propose bail for suspects.
The minister’s remarks followed closely on the decision by Okahao Magistrate Liwena Mikiti to grant bail to several of the 24 suspects arrested last year for illegally hunting rhinos and elephants. The minister was further frustrated by the fact that one of the accused granted bail is a police officer, who was given bail of N$25 000.
Around 62 rhinos have been poached in the Etosha National Park area since 2008. Among the accused released last year on bail of N$40 000 each are Tobias Sheetu Amunyela, 25, Lukas Akooko, 35, and Pineas Natangwe Awene, 39.
Nambahu thanked Dave Weeks from the Bushwhackers, who donated the equipment including 45 sets of cutlery and another 45 Dixies (aluminum plates) to be used by the MET’s anti-poaching unit. Weeks promised that it would not be the end of Bushwhackers’ sponsorship towards anti-poaching, but rather the beginning of a long partnership.
Nambahu emphasised that intelligence, be it electronic or human, is vital to the success of any anti-poaching operation. “However, this can never be substituted with boots on the ground. It is to this end that the ministry hails the endless effort, not only of the anti-poaching unit but all law enforcement agencies, as well as private individuals that take it upon themselves to make a difference,” he noted.
“Remember, the ministry, as well as the Intelligence Support against Poaching (ISAP), are offering huge rewards for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of poachers and syndicates, but it is the patriotic duty of all citizens, corporate and natural, to contribute and render all support to make this effort a success,” he urged.
The ministry said the reward of N$30 000, which was doubled to N$60 000 in May last year, has proven a successful tactic that can lead to more arrests, including of traditional leaders who reportedly use horses when poaching.
Meanwhile Nampa reports that three men were arrested on Friday evening with three freshly sawn-off rhino horns at a mobile police roadblock outside Otavi in the Otjozondjupa Region.
Spokesperson of the Namibian police in the region Warrant Officer Maureen Mbeha confirmed the incident on Sunday, saying they found two large rhino horns and a small one. “We arrested them at approximately 21h00 on Friday evening about 40 kilometres west of Otavi on the Outjo-Otavi gravel road.”
She said the Otavi police chased after the white Toyota double-cab in which the suspects were travelling, after it failed to stop at the roadblock. As the police were catching up to them, one of the suspects threw out the bag of three rhino horns.
The police managed to stop the vehicle but two of the five occupants jumped out and fled on foot into the bush. The remaining three men, including the driver, were arrested after the police searched the vehicle and found a camping tent, blankets, containers of water, tinned food, seven live bullets for a 303 hunting rifle and a loaded 9-mm pistol.
The police suspect the men had just returned from poaching, as the rhino horns were still fresh. The three, aged 27, 29 and 33, now face a charge of possession of controlled wildlife products. They will appear in the Otavi Magistrate’s Court on Monday. The vehicle was impounded. – Additional reporting by Nampa