21 Jul 2023
Wild animals, birds, reptiles and lately even plants in many countries need more and more protection and Namibia is no exception. Rhinos, elephants and pangolins are the main targets of international syndicates.
For the first time a comprehensive report about successes in the fight against poaching has been released in Namibia, covering January to December 2022.
It was compiled by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), the Namibian Police (NamPol) and the Office of the Prosecutor General.
In total, 430 cases regarding poaching and smuggling of wildlife products were registered last year withand 693 suspects were arrested. Roughly half of these cases were poaching for meat. The smuggling of wild plants and live reptiles is increasing.
A recent example was reported in Vienna, Austria, where n dozens of live geckos said to be from Namibia were found in the luggage of a passenger at the airport.
On May 23, 2023, customs officers at Vienna-Schwechat Airport confiscated illegally transported reptiles - apparently from Namibia.
A total of 85 geckos of different species as well as two snakes and two scorpions with a total sales value of around 47,000 Euros were saved. They are said to come from Namibia.
This was reported by the district newspaper Oesterreich online.
After the arrival of a plane from Addis Ababa, Viennese customs officers became aware of a traveller from the Czech Republic and he was subjected to closer inspection.
The officers found a large number of non-protected reptiles in three well-hidden transport boxes in the luggage. "Some of the penned animals were in very poor health and were already showing clear signs of dehydration," reported the district newspaper.
For safety reasons and to identify the species, the animals were immediately taken to Schönbrunn Zoo. A total of 25 so-called Koch's thick-toed geckos, 6 Namib geckos, 48 Namib bellied geckos, 6 Bibron's thick-fingered geckos, 2 Namibian house snakes and 2 scorpions were counted. there. It is gratifying that all rescued animals have recovered well and have found a new home in Schönbrunn Zoo.
During 2022, records of both elephant poaching and ivory trafficking were at their lowest levels in Namibia for the past six years. Cases related to elephants made up less than ten per cent of all wildlife cases registered, the report noted.
Namibia’s elephant population remains at its highest for the past 150 years and is currently not under severe threat from wildlife crime, although vulnerabilities undoubtedly exist. Only four poached elephants were recorded. Since 2016, the presence of national security forces in state parks has reduced poaching impacts significantly, according to the report. Namibia has about over 20,000 elephants.
Namibia was hit hard by a first wave of poaching that started in 2015. A concerted response with wide-ranging international support temporarily shifted the attention of rhino syndicates elsewhere. Losses were suppressed in 2016 and 2017 yet increased and once more spiked in to a new spike in 2018. More stringent counter measures again reduced known poaching losses to less than 50 rhinos a year in 2020 and 2021. Yet in 2022, losses almost doubled again.
“The Oshikoto, Omusati and Otjozondjupa Regions show the highest prevalence of rhino crimes; this may be due to a number of factors, including proximity to rhino areas and important trafficking nodes for rhino products,” the poaching report stated.
The prevalence of rhino crimes has shown regional shifts from year to year, based largely on shifting tactics and targets byof criminals. During 2022, rhino crimes were recorded in 12 out of Namibia’s 14 regions, highlighting the widespread nature of rhino crimes.
The drivers behind poaching waves and ebbs are complex. They include accessibility of easy nearby targets, for example in neighbouring countries, the effectiveness of local countermeasures, and a rise or fall in demand.
“Counter measures through international cooperation along the entire supply chain can disrupt trafficking routes, yet as long as there is demand and prices are high, criminals keep adapting. Money drives supply, yet demand depends on consumer appetite,” according to the report.
A rise in the smuggling of Namibian wild plants and succulents has been recorded, a worrying trend.
Namibia is home to a diversity of rare and endemic succulent plants (plants with thick, fleshy leaves or stems for storing water). Two key centres of plant endemism are found in Namibia, one in the northwest (extending into southern Angola) and one in the southwest (extending into northern South Africa), which are likely to be increasingly threatened by transboundary crime, especially via South Africa.
Succulents are often small, with unusual growth forms and unique features, which makes them very popular as ornamental plants in homes and gardens.
“Worldwide demand for ornamental plants has exploded in recent years, driven in part by the internet, which enables easy connectivity to markets across the globe while incurring a low risk of being apprehended, the official report says.
Investigations, motivated by “dramatic warning signs from neighbouring South Africa”, uncovered extensive illicit harvesting and trafficking of live plants in Namibia during 2022, with a number of arrests and the seizure of significant volumes of live plants.
Such arrests remain low in Namibia compared to South Africa but are nonetheless cause for grave concern and require immediate counter measures.
Instances of plants being actively harvested in southern Namibia by criminals entering from South Africa have been recorded, with some arrests beingen made and large numbers of plants seized.
“It is feared that in the vast spaces of southern Namibia, extensive plant poaching may be going unnoticed,” said the report.
The main species currently known to be targeted include Adenia, Conophytum, Lithops, Cyphostemma, Pachypodium and Commiphora. Most of these include species or sub-species endemic to Namibia. Many have a much-localised distribution and are extremely slow-growing, which makes them susceptible to rapid extinction in the wild.
Smuggling of Cyphostema and Adenia specimens via air freight from Windhoek to Hong Kong with falsified permits has been uncovered, with one consignment intercepted in Johannesburg.
South African authorities worked with Namibian counterparts to return the material and initiate joint investigations. Confiscated plants are being replanted in the wild, but survival rates are currently unknown.
The report ”Wildlife Protection and Law Enforcement in Namibia for the Year 2022” is an interesting read.
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