Namibia offers model to tackle poaching scourge

Jan 27, 2013 by Brigitte Weidlich
An elephant at the Amboseli game reserve, approximately 250 kilometres south of Kenyan capital Nairobi on December 30, 2012. Faced with poachers who are ravaging elephant and rhino populations, African nations could do worse than look to Namibia for a game plan to combat the scourge.

Faced with poachers who are ravaging elephant and rhino populations, African nations could do worse than look to Namibia for a game plan to combat the scourge.

Wildlife poaching is on the rise across Africa's vast savannahs and in the jungles and outmanned and outgunned governments have struggled to keep up.

Last year saw a record 668 rhino killed in South Africa, according to the government, while in elephant killings increased apace.

The blame has been directed toward Asia, where demand for rhino horn, held to have medicinal value, is on the increase. Elephants are prized for their ivory tusks.

After several quiet years, Namibia too has been touched by the bloody uptake.

Late last year a black rhino cow was killed and dehorned in the south African country's remote and scenic northwest, her helpless calf left to die.

Though an isolated event, for Namibians, it was a rare and fearsome echo of the past.

For decades under South African rule, the country endured profligate poaching that threatened to exterminate wildlife populations and to discourage tourist dollars.

Today things are different.

Within days of the rhino's death, a culprit was arrested. A trial is now pending.

The apparent overnight success in tracking down the poacher was in fact due to decades of work.

It began 30 years ago when Garth Owen-Smith, a pioneer of community-based conservation, visited rural homesteads to encourage residents to cherish local wildlife.

Elephant tusk pieces in a secret building in the world's largest wildlife park, the South African Kruger Park on October 30, 2002. Faced with poachers who are ravaging elephant and rhino populations, African nations could do worse than look to Namibia for a game plan to combat the scourge.

His argument was simple: and farming people with livestock can not only co-exist but actually benefit each other.

Owen-Smith recalls his point in a recent book, "An Arid Eden," writing that "if the wildlife was conserved, it would one day attract tourists, creating jobs and bringing money to the area."

Local communities were initially reluctant to cooperate, but eventually the plan worked.

In 1980, Namibia had an estimated 300 black rhinos left. Today their numbers total some 1,700 animals.

Desert elephants were reduced to some 155 animals in the early 1980s and now they number around 600.

According to Pierre du Preez, current rhino coordinator for the ministry of environment and tourism, the policies worked partly because tracking animals for tourists provided well-paid jobs.

"Rural neighbours to rhino populations are far more pro-conservation, making it more difficult for individuals in these communities to become as this might harm the whole community," he said.

"Better cooperation and trust exists between the (ministry), police, non-governmental organisations and the communities, thus the risk for illegal activities increases as the community will report to authorities."

A badly injured white rhino lies in a hollow after poachers sawed off its horn in Cape Town on August 22, 2011. Faced with poachers who are ravaging elephant and rhino populations, African nations could do worse than look to Namibia for a game plan to combat the scourge.

The rhino poached in December was found by local people and immediately reported to officials.

This cooperation on the ground is being augmented with high-tech tactics.

"Security devices were implanted in a significant percentage of all rhino in high-risk areas, security personnel (are) specially trained and high-tech security systems are in place," Du Preez said.

An even more drastic measure may be on the cards. In 1989, Namibia was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to dehorn black rhinos to prevent poaching. "This might become a possibility again," Du Preez added.

Namibia's success also shows the importance of tackling the politics that underlie and enable poaching.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Namibia's vast open spaces were effectively used as private hunting grounds by officials from the ruling South African government and top army personnel.

Officers visiting the war zones on Namibia's northern borders, where guerrillas of the South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) were waging an independence struggle, would be treated to hunting trips with army planes and helicopters.

Temporary tent camps were set up and cabinet members from Pretoria including defence minister PW Botha—later South Africa's president—could even enjoy ice-cubes in their rum and coke or whisky.

The result was that hundreds of elephants, , giraffe and thousands of antelopes were shot for the pot, for illegal trade and for trophies.

Former prime minister John Vorster is thought to have shot an elephant by the Ombonde River in 1973.

When Namibia won its independence from South Africa in 1990, the government laid the groundwork for a new approach on poaching—"community-based natural resource management," a clumsy name for an effective policy.

Today, politicians may be able to set the stage for similarly successful polices by addressing demand for rhino horn at the source in Asia when signatories of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—a treaty to protect wildlife—meet in Thailand in March.

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User comments : 5

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TheGhostofOtto1923
2.7 / 5 (7) Jan 27, 2013
How about:

Injectable transponders which monitor an an animals vitals and location, and can send out an alarm if the animal is in trouble? It may not save that particular animal but it will aid in tracking down the poachers and slaughtering them and their families.

Horns and tusks could be tagged as well in order to aid in finding and butchering traffickers and consumers, and their families, and the priests who tell them that their religions warrant such behavior. Alternatively, horns could be poisoned with slow-acting neurotoxins to do this automatically.
PPihkala
5 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2013
As long there is demand for poached items, it will stay. So people that create such a demand should be educated and even fined to stop wanting poached items.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2013
Flood the asian market with artificially created rhino horn.
It should be possible to create the cells that generate the horn from stem cells, right?

Everybody wins.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 28, 2013
As long there is demand for poached items, it will stay. So people that create such a demand should be educated and even fined to stop wanting poached items.
The people who demand these things are religionists and as such they won't respond to education. Only severe punishment and removal of the supply will work.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 28, 2013
It should be possible to create the cells that generate the horn from stem cells, right?
The horn is actually a dense bundle of hair. You would need to reproduce the construction. And as with diamonds, consumers would pay even more for the real stuff.

Befoul the horns while they are still on the beast. Like paraquat on Mexican pot. Or like denatured alcohol. Sone spray or paint should work. Something that would render users sterile and impotent.