New Era (Windhoek)

13 February 2013

Namibia: Poachers Kill 78 Elephants in 2012

Rundu — Despite the enormous challenge, government remains vigilant and determined not to allow poachers to win the illegal poaching battle.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) this week announced that no elephant poaching cases have been recorded so far this year. Last year an alarming 78 of the country's estimated 20 000-strong elephant population succumbed at the hands of ruthless poachers. Speaking exclusively to New Era yesterday, MET Director for Parks and Wildlife Management, Colgar Sikopo, said the ministry has measures in place and is working closely with law enforcement agencies to mitigate the situation.

"The last poaching case was reported in November last year. At the moment poaching activities are confined to the Caprivi Region due to its high elephant population," he said. "Last year the number increased significantly, because there were a lot of poaching incidents between April and October. People simply poach the animals for the ivory, because all the carcasses we found were without the tusks," Sikopo said.

Although he did not have the exact number of jumbos poached in 2011, he said the figure was definitely less than 10. He said there were no reported cases in other parts of the country pertaining to the illegal poaching of elephants. Information from the police indicate that two cases of illegal poaching were reported last year, while six cases of possession of ivory were reported. Four foreign nationals, Angola (1), Botswana (2) and Zambia (1) were arrested during police operations relating to those cases.

The director was particularly concerned with the number of foreigners involved in poaching, adding that poaching has become a cross-border activity. "Some of the locals who were arrested are connected to foreigners. This is a serious concern to us, because our animals are removed from the ecosystem in an incorrect manner. This also negatively impacts the trophy hunting industry, because communities benefit less as a result," said Sikopo.

Although rhino poaching is not such a big concern in Namibia, as is the case in South Africa, Sikopo said the MET is ready should the rhino poaching syndicates cross over into Namibia. A total of 57 rhinos were butchered in South Africa in January alone this year, 42 of them in the Kruger National Park. Of the 18 suspected poachers arrested since January 01, 2013, eleven were arrested in the Kruger National Park and three of them were fatally wounded.

"We are seeing what is happening in South Africa, therefore we are geared up should this problem come to Namibia," he said.

Sikopo also said the formation of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) was necessitated by the fact that the five countries (Zambia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia) share the same natural resources. "Research confirms that the elephants migrate to our neighbouring countries, therefore there is a need for the governments involved to work together towards a common goal of conservation and to develop tourism," he said.

"Although there were programmes in the past, we see a positive impact with regards to the KAZA TFCA," he said. The treaty establishing the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) was signed by the five heads of state to officially establish and give us the mandate to conduct our conservation and development programmes. Even on the ground level there has been progress as staff members work together. There is also a secretariat coordinating all the activities," he said.

Some of the priority areas for Namibia include human wildlife conflict management, wildlife corridors and wildlife crime prevention.

Wildlife experts suggest that hunting is good for the environment, provided that it is regulated, since it prevents overpopulation, which can lead to animals exhausting their natural food supply and then become forced to move into areas, which are not adaptable to them.

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