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Environment and tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta has issued a stern warning to poachers, saying that they continue with their crimes at their own peril.
Shifeta announced that close to 500 commandos from the Namibian Defence Force are receiving specialised training in order to be deployed in anti-poaching units in the country’s national parks.
According to Shifeta, the soldiers will be equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to stem the tide of poaching that has seen hundreds of endangered animals killed in Namibia. He said these commandos would be deployed at poaching hotspots.
“The commandos will be there and you won’t see them… so tell everybody that they should not enter Etosha at undesignated areas. They are doing so at their own risk,” said Shifeta, who was speaking at the Regional Conservancy Chairperson’s Forum in Ongwediva last week.
People are only allowed to enter the Etosha National Park through the Anderson Gate, Von Lindequist Gate, Galton Gate and King Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate.
But poachers have unhindered access to the park as efforts to erect an elephant- and predator-proof fence are being held back by financial constraints.
Efforts to repair the 800-kilometre-long park fence are said to be continuing, albeit at a snail’s pace because of the unavailability of funds, the minister admitted.
He said that the ministry has given top priority to the fixing of the fence at places known as hotspots for illegal entry and poaching.
According to the latest statistics released by the environment ministry, between 2014 and June this year, 246 poaching suspects have been arrested. The statistics also indicate that only 78 people were arrested in 2016 for wildlife crimes.
Meanwhile, Shifeta on Saturday also visited the community of Onamatanga in the Omusati Region where he addressed them on human-wildlife conflict and wildlife crime prevention.
Onamatanga is one of the areas close to the Etosha National Park where a number of locals have been implicated in poaching.
Shifeta told the community about the strict measures his ministry has come up with to combat the scourge of poaching.
Shifeta said unemployment was no excuse for local people to get involved in poaching, as there were many opportunities out there for people to make a living.
“Unemployment should not be an excuse for you to be part of those that are recruiting you to poach. The money that they are giving you is not worth your life, as entering Etosha is dangerous. The reason why they are sending you is because it is dangerous in the park as you are amongst wildlife. Ask yourself why don’t they go and do it themselves.”
Shifeta also said that the ministry’s officials were working around the clock to contain wildlife, especially lions, escaping from Etosha.
He pointed out that human-wildlife conflict was a result of local people intentionally cutting the park fence.
He also accused farmers of erecting their fences too close to the park.
In the past few months over a dozen lions have been shot dead by community members in Omusati after the lions allegedly killed their livestock.
Shifeta told the community members that they do not have the right to take the law into their own hands and should rather report such problems to the ministry, which would then decide on the best possible solution.
He also explained that the increasing number of lions in Etosha contributed to their escaping from the park. Because livestock are easy prey for lions and hyenas, it becomes difficult for these animals to return to the park.
Some community members complained that the compensation paid when their livestock are killed or injured by predators was not enough.
“Minister, it takes one many years and a lot of money to raise our livestock, especially the cattle, but when I suffer a loss because they were attacked by lions and hyenas I only get N$1 500 per head which is not fair,” one community member remarked.
Shifeta responded that the government realised their situation and was drafting a national policy to address that issue.