While many Namibians were enjoying their summer holiday, the Namibian anti-poaching unit has been working tirelessly and last week reportedly gunned down three persons in the Bwabwata National Park, who were among 13 suspected poachers.
The shooting incident was confirmed by Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta via a text message sent on December 29.
“We have taken a serious decision, as I announced three weeks ago, to invoke the Criminal Procedures Act for self-defense whenever poachers fire at our units. Poachers shooting at anti-poaching units will regret having done so if they ever survive the firepower of our well-trained special units,” Shifeta wrote.
He went on to say, “I have not been on leave up to now, just visiting our units in parks and giving new instructions.”
He further said one of the suspected poachers was shot and killed by anti-poaching unit officials on December 19.
It is believed this was the first time that the anti-poaching unit has taken such a drastic approach as to shoot and kill suspects, or assailants in the ongoing campaign against the relentless activity of poachers, an approach that has been likened to the Botswana Defence Force’s “shoot to kill” policy against poachers.
The stance that the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism in that country adopted towards poachers has caused unease among leading countries, such as the United States of America.
Shifeta said two more poachers were shot and killed on December 29 between 11h00 and 12h00 while three more were arrested, with one seriously injured. The injured suspected poacher is receiving medical treatment in Divundu hospital.
“We vowed to show them that there is an authority. We have also started to deploy the special unit of the NDF (Namibia Defence Force) in Bwabwata National Park and we will do the same in Etosha and other parks countrywide,” Shifeta warned.
The arrested suspects appeared in Rundu Magistrate’s Court on Friday and were all denied bail. They are being held at Divundu police station.
Although the details are still sketchy, Ministry of Environment and Tourism spokesperson Romeo Muyunda yesterday confirmed the first shooting incident, saying an exchange of fire occurred between poachers and the anti-poaching unit on December 19, in which a suspected poacher was shot and killed. He said a group of about seven suspected poachers had on December 16 entered Bwabwata National Park from the east in the Mukwenyati area, where the anti-poaching unit discovered an adult elephant cow and two calves butchered without their tusks.
On December 17, Muyunda said, the anti-poaching unit went on a routine patrol in the park to track down the suspected poachers, but their search yielded no results. Thereafter, on December 19 the poachers returned to the same park and a gunshot was heard, to which the anti-poaching unit responded swiftly.
“They followed the shoeprints of the poachers and found another elephant carcass with its tusk intact. While they were conducting investigations, the poachers spotted them first and started shooting. An exchange of fire began, where at least one poacher was shot and killed in the process,” he revealed.
According to the ministry, the remaining poachers, some of whom were armed with AK47 assault rifles, managed to flee. The deceased was found in possession of a .375 hunting rifle.
New Era could not establish his personal details by the time of going to press and the other suspected poachers’ nationalities are also yet to be determined.
The Ministry of Environment and Tourism says significant progress has been made to operationalise the Wildlife Protection Unit, as key positions have now been filled. To this end the ministry identified five priority areas as sub-divisions of the unit.
Wildlife crime in Namibia has reached frightening levels, with well-organised gangs entering vulnerable areas and crime syndicates organising the trafficking of horns and tusks through complex networks leading to foreign markets, particularly in Asia.
Over the past few months, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been searching for suitable candidates to spearhead the country’s anti-poaching unit and was considering headhunting a candidate should the right person for the job not be found.
The Draft National Strategy on Wildlife Protection and Law Enforcement 2016 to 2020 indicates that Namibia lacks half the resources needed to curb the serious and escalating poaching threat. These include funds, manpower and equipment.
In April the ministry announced that it was looking to hire someone to head the anti-poaching unit and advertised the position of deputy director for wildlife protection services.
Muyunda said they have since started with the recruitment of the heads of the five subdivisions, or priority areas, namely Etosha National Park; Zambezi, Kavango East, Kunene and Head Office.