International crime syndicates are killing rhinos for profit, and international partnerships are required to fight back and save Namibia’s rhino population. That was the joint message from the United States Ambassador to Namibia, the Minister of Environment and Tourism, and WWF in Namibia, at the launch of generous grant to combat wildlife trafficking in Namibia.
Ambassador Thomas Daughton announced the US$ 1,800,000 grant from the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement in the boardroom of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) on 26 July, with the support of the Namibian Police and Prosecutor General.
Improved investigations of poaching incidents, prosecutions of poachers, and higher penalties for those caught, are at the heart of the US grant. Ambassador Daughton praised the Namibian government for raising the penalty for wildlife trafficking to a fine of N$ 25 million and 25 years in jail.
According to Daughton, wildlife trafficking should be a high risk, low value endeavour.
Leading a partnership of six conservation NGOs, WWF in Namibia will administer the grant, worth around N$ 24 million, working together with government ministries and agencies involved in the fight against wildlife crime.
Key partner NGOs are Intelligence Support Against Poaching, a private sector initiative; the Legal Assistance Centre; the Namibia Nature Foundation; the Natural Resources Working Group of NACSO, and Save the Rhino Trust.
By supporting the Namibian police, the MET and the Prosecutor General’s office, more timely and effective investigations will be possible and prosecutions will be more successful, WWF Director Chris Weaver stated.
As well as the recently announced increased penalties, which should deter Namibians from assisting international crime syndicates, increased efforts will be made to create incentives for local communities to report suspicious activity to the police. With 82 communal conservancies in Namibia, one in five rural Namibians has a stake in the benefits accruing from wildlife, including tourism.
Lastly, stated Weaver, a coordinating mechanism is being established to link the actions of government, civil society, the private sector and rural communities – to avoid duplication of effort and improve working synergy between the partners.
In thanking the US Department of State, Minister of Environment Hon. Pohamba Shifeta noted that wildlife recoveries in Namibia began when rights were granted over wildlife to rural communities, which stood to benefit along with the rest of the country from the growing tourism industry.
The Minister noted that Namibia has the second highest population of rhino, after South Africa, and the largest population of critically endangered black rhino. It would therefore be an international conservation disaster, he stated, if the black rhino population were to be lost.
Shifeta was clear about the growth of wildlife crime. Since 2012, when 3 rhino were poached, the figure went up to 60 in 2016. Exact numbers are hard to determine as many carcasses are found long after death in the wild spaces where black rhino roam.
Other figures were the targets announced for action made possible by the grant: a halving of poaching and a doubling of arrests by 2018, and an effort to make sure that all incidents will be fully investigated and prosecuted.
Although some of the measures being evolved to counter poaching will be made public, stated the Minister, such as the anti-poaching training facility at the Waterberg, others will remain hush-hush. There is no need to tell the poachers what we are doing to catch them, he said.
The Minister summed up the objectives of the grant, saying it “aims to reduce poaching and trafficking of rhino and their body parts originating from Namibia by strengthening domestic, civil enforcement and prosecutions of rhino-related crime through enhanced investigative and enforcement functions.” As a result it is envisaged that Namibia’s rhino population will continue to increase in numbers, by at least 5% per annum, and gradually re-establish into its historical range where land use will allow.