The recent arrest of the 52-year-old school principal of Simataa Senior Secondary School in Linyanti Constituency in the Zambezi Region, who was among a group of suspecs accused of running a syndicate that poaches elephants for their coveted ivory, has set tongues wagging at the school where the principal was regarded as a respected elder and a man of high moral values and ethics.
The ongoing probe could reveal a different person behind that façade. The principal is among four suspects arrested in connection with the alleged recent poaching of three elephant bulls.
Ministry of Environment and Tourism spokesperson Romeo Muyunda yesterday revealed to New Era that elephant mortalities have risen steeply this year, bringing the total to a devastating 67 animals butchered since January.
Equally, by August three more rhino carcasses – possibly poached for their horns – were discovered in the Etosha National Park, pushing the figure of known rhino mortalities up to 37 for this year and bringing the total rhino deaths since last year to 162. He said 43 rhinos have been unlawfully killed since January and one of the cases involved rhino poaching in Erindi Game Reserve.
Muyunda said the community alerted the Ministry of Environment and Tourism officials to their discovery of one of the carcasses.
One carcass was discovered on October 11 and two more were discovered around October 16 in the Salambala Conservancy.
Upon further investigation, he said the authorities traced the suspects, where the police eventually confiscated four tusks, a .375 hunting rifle fitted with silencer and telescope, a bush knife, a traditional axe, plus several rounds of ammunition. Muyunda said another pair of elephant tusks is still missing.
Thereafter, the four suspects – including the principal – were arrested. A case of poaching was then opened at Ngoma police station and the suspects appeared in Katima Mulilo Magistrate’s Court on October 19 and 20, where three were denied bail.
The principal of Simataa Senior Secondary School has been identified as John Lutibezi. The others include two Namibian nationals (Samzala Vasco Samunzala and Meki Mbanga), as well as Zambian national Stanley Wamunyima, who is reportedly married to a Namibian woman.
The school principal applied for bail and was released on bail of N$5 000 on condition that he report twice a day to Chichimane police station.
“This was a tip-off from the public. We appreciate the efforts of community members who have been vigilant enough to detect this and inform the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
“It is encouraging to see that people are beginning to get into the fight against poaching. We would like to encourage the public to continue engaging us, so we can stop the poaching of elephants and rhinos,” Muyunda noted.