The ministry of environment has launched a fact-finding mission in collaboration with its Angolan counterpart into the mysterious deaths of at least five crocodiles from the Kunene River.
The crocodiles, some estimated to be eight years old, have been found floating on the Namibian side of the river where some have washed up. Reports from locals in the area are that the reptiles appear to have been poisoned, while some were found butchered and cut open.
Lodge owners in the area said last week they came upon a few crocodile carcasses, where most had their heads and feet bluntly cut off. The environment ministry's spokesperson, Romeo Muyunda, who confirmed these reports, said the ministry will be engaging with wildlife officials in Angola as it is a transboundary matter.
"It is possible that the poisoning might be happening from the Angolan side. We also believe that these might be retaliation killings as a result of human-wildlife conflict".
"Such situations happen more often when people are frustrated as they lose livestock, and people being killed by crocodiles", he noted
Muyunda said although the ministry does not have a figure of how many crocodiles have been killed to date, the situation will be monitored closely.
"We reiterate our call to all Namibians in conflict situations with wild animals not to take the law into their own hands as this is punishable by law, but rather to engage the authorities for an amicable solution," he urged.
In the meantime, communities in the area will be sensitised not to consume crocodile meat, while they determine what is being used to poison the animals.
Kunene River Lodge owners, situated east of Epupa Falls in the Kunene region, are amongst those who have raised alarm on the matter.
The lodge's owners, Hillary and Pete Morgan, approached The Namibian to share their concern about the ongoing poisoning and slaughtering of crocodiles in the area.
"Three days ago, we found a dead crocodile in the Kunene River. It was approximately eight years old, in perfect condition, and had been poisoned," Hillary Morgan recounted.
"[On Thursday] we found three large slaughtered crocodiles on the Angolan bank, opposite the island where we have observed them for many months. They were butchered, with their heads and feet cut off, and one of them had been skinned." Images shared with The Namibian illustrate crocodile carcasses with their bellies cut open, and their organs pouring out. One of them, a female crocodile, had its stomach which was cut open revealing many yellow eggs.
Hillary said although the numbers are difficult to assess, at least three crocodiles have been killed within a short distance of the lodge in the last week.
Upon reporting these findings, the police at the Otjimuhaka village informed her that more dead crocodiles had been found further upstream as well.
Eliaser Naftali, a ministry official based at Opuwo, went up to the Kunene River Lodge area on Friday to assess one of the crocodile carcasses near the lodge.
Naftali said it was difficult to tell whether the animal was poisoned or snared, as part of its body was gone.
"If it was poisoned, they wouldn't have taken the meat," he reasoned.
However, he noted that there were several other dead crocodiles floating in the river while he was there. He said those crocodiles were bloated, and may have been poisoned as they did not have any physical marks on their bodies.
Naftali added that at this juncture, it is difficult to determine on which side of the river the poisoning is happening.
"There are a lot of villages on both sides of the river, and because it was not only Kunene but also Epupa, we just don't know which side of the river it's coming from because it's all the same body of water," he said.
In Namibia, crocodiles are a protected species under the ministry of environment, and may not be hunted without authorisation from the ministry.