U.S. pledges N$23 million towards anti-poaching efforts

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Albertina Nakale

Windhoek-In a show of commitment to the protection of fauna, the government of the United States of America (USA) has pledged a N$23.4 million grant from the U.S. State Department for combatting wildlife trafficking in Namibia.

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Daughton made the announcement of the grant towards combatting wildlife trafficking on Wednesday and explained that the multi-sector project made possible by this new grant aims to strengthen collaboration among protected area officials, communal conservancies, law enforcement, and freehold rhino custodian farms with the goal of improving wildlife crime detection, case development, as well as arrest and conviction rates.

Daughton said in the last few years Namibia has begun to confront a new kind of environmental challenge. “Hardly a week passes without headlines about a poaching incident, or the appearance of a wildlife trafficker in court. In response to this new and dangerous challenge, we want to help Namibia duplicate its previous successes using the same kind of combined effort.”

He noted that poaching in one form or another has been around for decades, but trafficking in endangered wildlife products, particularly rhino horn and elephant tusk, has increased sharply in Namibia in recent years.

Receiving the grant, Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta said actual poaching incidents were difficult to verify as finding carcasses in the vast areas where rhinos and elephants occur takes vast amounts of resources and search efforts.

He said the statistics reflect a worrying trend, with poaching incidents rising from three rhinos in 2012, to nine in 2013, 56 in 2014, 95 in 2015, 60 in 2016 and 19 already in 2017.

Shifeta revealed most rhino poaching to date occurred in the Etosha National Park and in communal conservancies and tourism concession areas in northwest Namibia, adding there is now a growing trend of rhinos being poached on commercial farmland.

“These losses might not appear significant compared to our neighbouring countries, especially South Africa, but the overall population of black rhino remains extremely small and fragile, and unlike large predators, which might also have similar low numbers, rhinos breed very slowly – approximately five percent per annum.

“Black rhino also cannot realistically be bred in small areas, as they are extremely aggressive towards each other. This means that their survival depends on access to large, expansive tracts of wild habitat.”

He added that rhino are unfortunately also relatively easy to find and kill, therefore the poaching threat is very serious, particularly as the 2015 levels of poaching in Namibia potentially reached a tipping point, whereafter overall rhino numbers in Namibia began to regress.

The U.S. Ambassador maintained that Namibia is a country known around the world for its natural beauty and diverse wildlife and that tourists flock here in their thousands every year for a chance to see rhinos, cheetahs and elephants roaming wild and free.

Further, he said Namibia is equally renowned for its commitment to and success in managing and preserving its environment, as enshrined in the Namibian constitution.

“Namibia’s success in this regard has taken many forms, from the establishment of more than 80 communal conservancies to the tripling in the country’s elephant population between 1995 and 2017. This success has been the result of a strong commitment by the Namibian government in partnership with local communities, NGOs, and the American government,” he noted.

He said through training prosecutors and informing judges about the seriousness and complexities of wildlife crime, more offenders would be prosecuted and appropriately punished using existing organised crime laws and other legislation.

Moreover, he said engagement with local communities would incentivise and empower them to become more active and responsible stewards of their wildlife. Better information sharing among government agencies, civil society, and the private sector would ultimately result in greater successes in breaking up and punishing wildlife criminal syndicates, he said.

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