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Rhino poaching and the inside job (Namibia)

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Namibian| March 23, 2020

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The term ‘poacher’ is often used for anyone involved in wildlife crime. In reality, wildlife crime functions through a complex web of criminals, where the poachers – the people carrying out the illegal killing of an animal to initiate the trade in its parts – are at the lowest level.

Poachers are often rural community members with good “bush skills”. They need to find and kill an intended target, and get the products to a dealer. But bush skills are no longer enough to poach rhinos. The huge increase in rhino poaching in recent years has led to the pachyderms receiving specialised protection.

This includes establishing anti-poaching units, putting up electric fencing, surveillance cameras and other technologies and activities. To avoid all of this security, find and kill a rhino, and get the horns to a dealer is no longer easy. It requires inside information – the “inside job”.

Bribes are a central component of inside jobs. People are bribed to provide inside information, to look the other way, or to remove obstacles so that criminal activity becomes easier.

Original photo by Namibian: Two white rhinos spotted in the Namibian wild. Photo: Nampa


While poaching is often carried out by rural community members, wheeling and dealing business people tend to get involved in nefarious activities that include trafficking illegal wildlife products. They usually have access to significant amounts of cash, which they use to ‘smooth the path’ of crime.

Paying or receiving bribes is against the law, punishable with severe penalties. Any actions of aiding and abetting criminals are equally serious. In several cases over the past year, arrested suspects have attempted to bribe law-enforcement officers. Yet the officers immediately reported the incidents and the charge of attempted bribery was added to the wildlife-crime charges.

Inside jobs in wildlife crime can occur anywhere. People use privileged knowledge or positions of power to commit offences at all levels of the crime chain. It might be an employee of a protected area, perhaps even the security personnel tasked with safeguarding the rhinos.

At higher levels, it might be a police officer, a customs official or other government employee, or a community leader who uses a position of influence and trust to enable rhino killing, or the trafficking of rhino horns out of the country.

The most high-profile case in recent months of an inside job was the arrest (in January 2020) of a senior police officer from Oshakati, who used his status as a cover for his activities as a wildlife-crime kingpin. He coordinated rhino poaching in Etosha National Park, as well as the sale of the horns to international dealers. Several other government officials have been arrested in relation to rhino poaching in Etosha.

During a recent visit to the park, police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga, expressed the sentiment that it is a disgrace to the integrity of our security forces that civil servants have been arrested in connection with rhino poaching.

The transparency with which internal transgressions are being addressed by the government is commendable. People in positions of trust obviously have a heightened responsibility, yet no sector of society is immune to temptation. How infringements are dealt with is important. This is where public trust is tested.

The recent arrests have shown that in Namibia, security forces and other government officials are not above the law. Investigators carry out their work without bias. Suspects are being arrested, charged and prosecuted, irrespective of their status.

Wildlife crime cases involving government staff usually receive heightened public attention. This may lead to the impression that a large percentage of wildlife crimes are carried out by civil servants. Of the 91 suspects arrested on charges related to rhino poaching or trafficking during 2019, only six were government officials.

Three of these had direct links to the location being targeted, or used their position to facilitate the crime. Yet these numbers represent only a tiny fraction of the thousands of people involved in the protection of Namibia’s rhino. The vast majority are dedicated, trustworthy women and men, who rarely receive recognition for their work, but are quickly cast in a bad light if anything goes wrong.

Importantly, inside information is a two-way street. Technological advances, including excellent surveillance and forensics techniques, are enabling an entirely new level of law enforcement. Combined with information provided by the public, this is allowing law enforcement officials to be a step ahead of the poachers in many cases.

During 2019, 91 suspects in 27 cases were arrested on charges related to rhino poaching or trafficking. Of these, 59 suspects in 15 cases were arrested before they could kill a rhino – and charged with conspiracy to poach. More than half of the rhino cases involving arrests were pre-emptive arrest cases.

Under Namibian law, conspiracy to poach is treated with the same seriousness as when the actual crime is committed.

The pre-emptive arrests have saved dozens of rhinos. They must be seen as one of the most significant successes in Namibia’s battle against wildlife crime. They show that when legal systems function effectively and the public is on the side of the law, the power of the inside job is reversed.

Helge Denker is a Namibian-born writer, artist and naturalist. He has worked in various sectors within the Namibian tourism and environmental spheres for the past three decades, and has published numerous articles on the country’s conservation issues.

All-Female Ranger Unit Protecting Kenya’s Wildlife

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Voa News | March 07, 2020

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KAJIADO, KENYA – Kenya’s Amboseli National Park is home to herds of elephants that have been the target of poachers trafficking in the illicit trade in ivory. Now a program that has brought women on board in the fight against poaching is gaining traction.

At the start of another day at the Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch, 23-year-old park ranger Purity Amleset, the leader of this all female ranger unit, sets out the day’s plan with her team, ensuring that each member has her orders correct.

Today’s task: locating an elephant and her newborn calf.

Original photo as published by VOA News: Members of Team Lioness are seen in traditional garb on a day off from work. (Photo: Patrick Papatiti, Commander of the Olgulului Community Wildlife Rangers)

Team Lioness

Dubbed “Team Lioness,” the ranger unit is made up of eight women whose core duties involve protecting wildlife within the 1,230 square kilometer stretch of parkland that surrounds Amboseli National Park.

They are chosen for their academic achievements, physical stamina, integrity and discipline.

Amleset says joining an all-female ranger unit has been beneficial to the traditionally patriarchal Maasai community.

She says her community held the view that women and girls were the weaker sex and that girls could only do menial jobs and housework, which included only raising a family. However over the course of time, the female rangers have been showing and telling them the importance of being a ranger just like the menfolk.

Gateway for poachers

The Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch’s proximity to the Amboseli park makes it a likely gateway for poachers who may seek entry into the national park to hunt illegally.

Patrick Papatiti, the commander of the Olgululului Community Wildlife Rangers has about 76 rangers under his charge. He says integrating women has not been easy.

“We have the same mentality even within the male ranger unit, the same mentality that ladies cannot do it. But surprisingly we have the best young women who can run, who can move faster than these guys, who can go long(er) distances than these guys,” he sad. “So from that, working together helped us to clear the norm that these are the same ladies the same girls that you see in the village.”

Despite the challenges, in the end James Isiche — the regional director for East Africa from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) — says starting an all-female ranger unit was a risk worth taking.

“Communities in Kenya are male-dominated, but this particular one is extremely male-dominated,” he said. “So getting young ladies to engage in what is seen as a man’s job is a huge success and what we (are) seeing is that it’s encouraging other girls to step up and say that ‘when I finish school I also want to join the female lionesses.’”

Two suspected rhino poachers shot dead in KwaZulu-Natal game park (South Africa)

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Kaveel Singh, News 24 | March 15, 2020

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Two suspected rhino poachers have been killed in a shootout at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, KwaZulu-Natal Environmental Affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube said on Sunday.

Original photo as published by News24: Alleged rhino poachers captured with new technology being used at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal. (Supplied, KZN EDTE)

She said that “courageous field staff, who work in dangerous conditions”, encountered three armed suspected rhino poachers on the night of 6 March.

Dube-Ncube added that 28 rhinos had already been killed at the park this year.

“Two of the suspects were fatally wounded and died at the scene, while one suspect managed to escape. One heavy calibre hunting rifle, as well as knives, commonly used to remove rhino horns, were recovered at the scene by the South African Police Service.”

Dube-Ncube said one of the men who was killed was a well-known high-level rhino poacher. He had been charged with the illegal possession of rhino horns in 2017.

She said he was suspected of coordinating groups of Mpumalanga poachers to target Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

Technology Comes to the Rescue

Dube-Ncube lauded the use of drone technology to combat poachers. She said it was part of a long-term strategy aimed at protecting the rhino population.

“We have decided to invest in Smart Park connectivity and the integration of systems to ensure early detection and rapid response. One of the key instruments being used is the installation of infrared trap cameras linked directly to the Parks Operational Centre.”

She said the cameras used artificial intelligence (AI) to identify people and sent an immediate alert to an operations centre which activated reaction units.

“On the night of 6 March an infrared camera detected three armed poaching suspects, and automatically alerted the operations centre, providing number of persons, grid reference and direction of the incursion.”

They were then located in the area and “challenged”, Dube-Ncube said.

“The reaction unit members who came under immediate threat defended themselves, which resulted in the two suspects being mortally wounded.”

She added that figures had shown that money earned in the illicit animal trade was more than $10bn.

“Such illegal activities have resulted in the loss of biodiversity and destruction of the ecosystem. Despite these alarming figures, we wish to commend communities that are working with us to fight rhino poaching.”

 

Soldier, poacher killed in rhino hotspot shootout (Botswana)

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Mmegi Online | March 11, 2020

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Botswana Defence Force (BDF) soldier and a poacher have died during a poaching incident that happened early this morning at Chiefs Island in heart of the Okavango Delta, the army has confirmed.

BDF media statement said there was shootout at around 3am at Chiefs Island between a BDF patrol team and poachers that resulted in the loss of two lives.

Original photo as published by Mmegi Online: Soldier, poacher killed.

“The Botswana Defence Force focusing on anti-poaching operations, sadly informs the public about an incident that occurred this morning (Wednesday) at around 0300 hrs at Chiefs Island in the Ngami Area whereby there was an exchange of fire between a BDF patrol team and poachers, which resulted in the death of a BDF member and one poacher,” said the statement.

“This incident clearly indicates that poachers continue to declare war on members of the Botswana Defence Force as they have adopted new tactics and operating methods that escalated poaching activities particularly at Chiefs Islands,” said the BDF.

The army further said, “Despite the positive achievements recorded over the years, poaching activities have certainly not stopped as poachers continue to target rhinos, elephants and other endangered species in our national parks.”

The incident brings to 11, the number of poachers killed while targeting members of the BDF since 2019.

The name of the deceased has been withheld until the next of kin have been informed.

 

Man shot dead during poaching incident at Limpopo game farm (South Africa)

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Review | March 12, 2020

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LIMPOPO: A suspected poacher has been shot dead during a poaching incident on a game farm in Dorset outside Lephalale on Tuesday, 10 March, says the police.

The man was reportedly shot and killed after he tried to shoot at the security officers on the said farm.

Police Spokesperson, Brig Motlafela Mojapleo reports: “It is alleged gunshots were heard at around 03:00 and when security officers went to investigate they encountered three unknown male suspects, one reportedly armed with a rifle. When the officers attempted to arrest the group the armed suspect apparently tried to shoot them and was then shot and killed in the process. The remaining two suspects disappeared into the nearby bushes.”

Original photo as published by Review Online. Photos: Limpopo Police

On the scene police found two dehorned rhino carcasses and an axe. Three rhino horns had already been cut off. Further investigations led to the discovery of a rifle with three rounds of ammunition.

A case of murder, of rhino poaching and the possession of unlawful firearms and ammunition is being investigated.

The police have also launched a manhunt for the remaining two suspects and requested anyone with information that can lead to their arrest to contact WO JJ van Heerden at 082 414 2337.

Alternatively they can contact the 24-hour Crime stop number at 0860010111 or the nearest police station.

Police investigations still continue.

 

Aaranyak urges Assam CM to set up modern KNP police station, hospital (India)

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Northeast Today | March 13, 2020

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Northeast India’s premier biodiversity research and natural environment conservation organisation, Aaranyak has made a request before Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal to set up a full-fledged modern police station and a state-of-the art hospital in Kaziranga National Park (KNP) and World Heritage Site in view of the global importance of the wildlife protection area and its fringes.

In a memorandum, signed by the CEO, Dr Bibhab Talukdar and submitted to the Chief Minister, the nature conservation organisation has made a fervent appeal for upgrading the present Kohora Police Outpost in the KNP under Golaghat District Police to a full-fledged Kaziranga National Park Police Station with a befitting building design that reflects the grandeur and essence of Kaziranga National Park and World Heritage Site, the abode of one-horned Indian rhinoceros that attracts wildlife buff, nature lovers and researchers from across the globe.

Original photo as published by Northeast Today.

The memorandum submitted by Aaranyak says, “Kaziranga National Park in Assam is globally known for its successful conservation efforts of greater one horned rhino. The small town in Kaziranga, which Kohora, is having a Police Outpost which falls under the Golaghat District Police. Kohora is being regarded as the gateway to Kaziranga National Park and thousands of tourists both Indian and foreign stay in lodges in and around Kohora area.”

In view of heavy footfall of tourists as well as concern for keeping constant vigil against poachers in the KNP, the CM has been requested to upgrade Kohora Police Out Post to a full-fledged Kaziranga National Park Police Station which should be designed in a befitting manner.

The CM has been requested to set up a helpline counter for tourists in the proposed Kaziranga National Park Police Station in order to further enhance the image of Assam Police and for that matter the image of Assam.

Aaranyak has further urged Assam Government to also upgrade the present Kohora Hospital to a modern hospital with facilities for the best treatment keeping in mind that frontline forest staff in KNP often get injured due to attacks by wild animals. Injured forest personnel hardly get proper treatment at the present health centre in Kohora due to non-availability of adequate facilities that endangers the life of the injured who have to be evacuated in critical condition to hospitals in Golaghat or Jorhat located at a distance.

 

Poaching trial to resume in May (South Africa)

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Sue Maclennan, Grocott’s Mail | March 13, 2020

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The trial of six men facing rhino-poaching charges continued in the Grahamstown High Court this week. East London residents Francis Chitiyo, Trymore Chauke, Misheck Chauke, Simba Masinge and Nhamo Muyambo, and Abraham Moyane were arrested in July 2018 during Operation Full Moon – the Eastern Cape Rhino Task Team’s code name for its anti-poaching operations.

All six have since been in custody. They are accused on four counts. The first two fall under the riotous assemblies act – statutory conspiracy to commit a restricted activity involving rhinoceros, and conspiracy to steal rhino horn. The second two counts are under the Firearms Control Act.

Original photo as published by Grocott’s Mail: Members of the Lalibela reserve anti-poaching unit poose for a photo outside the High Court in Makhanda (Grahamstown) ahead of the sentencing of the Ndlovu rhino-poaching gang on 3 April 2019. Photo: Sue Maclennan

The men were arrested 10km outside Makhanda, following a search operation. A dismantled hunting rifle, wrapped in black plastic bags, was found stashed in the tailgate of one of two vehicles they were travelling in. Knives, backpacks containing overalls and shoes, 10 cellphones and yellow-handled axes, along with receipts for the axes, were found in the men’s possession.

Over several days, chief witness Captain Mornay Viljoen gave detailed evidence based on the cellphone records in support of the State’s case that seeks to link the men to rhino-poaching incidents in Cradock, Kabega Park in Port Elizabeth and Alicedale. Viljoen is head of the Jeffreys Bay based Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit.

This week, defence for the men questioned Viljoen’s grounds for the arrest, and stated that two of the suspects were on their way to work in the Port Elizabeth area. The defence also averred that Muyambo had been at home in Zimbabwe during the period in question. The State questioned alleged discrepancies between the stamps in his passport and data from Home Affairs.

Through his lawyer Advocate Charles Stamper, Muyambo also maintained that he had bought a phone from a second-hand shop with a sim card inside it.

An axe bought at a shop in East London by the accused just two days after his arrival, his lawyer was instructed, was for his father back in Zimbabwe. It was much cheaper to buy an axe in South Africa.

Viwe Mqeke of Mqeke Attorneys represents the first two accused and Stamper Accused 4-6.

Senior State Prosecutor Buks Coetzee Thursday concluded his cross-examination of Chitiyo about his cellphone records and his whereabouts during the periods in question.

The trial will resume on 11 May and is set down to conclude by 29 May.

 

Anti-poaching units shine at Etosha (Namibia)

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Ellanie Smit, The Namibian Sun | March 11, 2020

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Significant successes, including the arrest of 63 suspects for wildlife-related crimes, have been recorded by anti-poaching units in the Etosha National Park since February last year.

This was revealed during a visit to Etosha by police inspector-general Sebastian Ndeitunga, environment minister Pohamba Shifeta and defence minister Penda Ya Ndakolo last Friday.

The delegation flew in with a police helicopter to familiarise themselves with the situation on the ground and engage members of the units.

This is according to a statement issued by the police.

The anti-poaching units comprise of officials from the environment ministry, Namibian Defence Force (NDF) and the police.

The current commander of phase 18 of the joint operation, Chief Inspector David Sheehamandje, informed the delegation that during phase 16, which lasted from 16 February 2019 to 13 August 2019, significant successes were recorded.

A total of 18 old and fresh rhino carcasses were discovered in the park, while three individuals were arrested and five rifles were confiscated during the period.

During phase 17, which lasted from 13 August 2019 to 21 February 2020, a total of 16 rhino carcasses were discovered, 55 suspects were arrested, 14 rifles were confiscated and five pairs of rhino horns were recovered.

Since the commencement of phase 18 on 21 February, the operation teams have arrested five suspects and confiscated one rifle.

Both ministers and Ndeitunga applauded the anti-poaching units for their excellent work and successes, as well as their dedication, despite limited resources and other challenges they face.

They also emphasised the importance of protecting wildlife at all times to prevent potential poachers, middlemen and syndicate members from causing further damage to protected wildlife species.

 

K9 unit thwarts suspected oryx poachers (Namibia)

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Arlana Shikongo, The Namibian | March 10, 2020

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Police reservists at Karibib intercepted a group of poachers, who had killed two oryx at Farm Albrechtshohe, but were only able to apprehend one of the four suspects.

The incident was reported in both the weekly wildlife crime statistics report – which is jointly prepared by the ministry of environment’s intelligence and investigation unit and the Namibian Police’s protected resources division – and the weekend serious incident report issued by the police.

In the incident report, the police head of public relations, deputy commissioner Kauna Shikwambi, said the four suspects entered the farm with dogs and spears at 03h00 and killed two oryx.

Original photo as published by The Namibian: The two dogs that were shot by members of the Otjiwarongo Neighbourhood watch organisation dispayed as well as the Oryx carcass, a spear and knives suspected to have been used in the illegal hunting activity on Farm Bernadette in the Otjozondjupa Region on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo by: Mulisa Simiyasa) NAMPA

She said the suspects were intercepted by police reservists and the K9 anti-poaching security members from Karibib while they were busy loading the carcasses onto a motor vehicle.

“Three of the suspects managed to escape but one of them, the owner of the vehicle, drove off from the scene but was later arrested and his vehicle was impounded,” she said.

Shikwambi stated the two oryx carcasses that were recovered are valued at N$20,000.

The wildlife crime statistics report indicated that in this past week, the police arrested and charged six suspects and registered four new cases.

Two Namibian suspects were arrested on Friday in Windhoek on elephant poaching/trafficking charges when they were found in possession of two pieces of elephant tusk.

Furthermore, two suspects were arrested on rhino poaching/trafficking charges, including cases of conspiracy to poach rhinos.

A Namibian was arrested at Okahao in the Omusati region last Wednesday for conspiracy to hunt protected game, specifically the rhino.

In a separate incident, an Angolan national was arrested at Omungwelume in the Ohangwena region for possessing rhino horns.

The charges laid against him also indicate that he might have entered the country illegally, as he did not possess a passport with an entry stamp into the country. Furthermore, he did not have documentation from an immigration official permitting his entry into Namibia.

In this arrest, the police seized a vehicle from the suspect.

The police also seized four live tortoises from a suspect at Omahenene in the Omusati region on Saturday.

 

Rhino population rebounding after anti-poaching crackdown (Kenya)

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Charles Wanyoro, The Daily Nation | March 11, 2020

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Conservationists and wildlife health experts at the Lewa Conservancy in Meru have expressed optimism that rhinos in the region will soon be removed from the red endangered species list following gradual increase.

The sanctuary for endangered wildlife species recorded 23 births in the last two years, marking a 9.5 per cent increase in black rhinos, and 10.5 per cent rise in the southern white rhino population.

Original photo as published by Daily Nation: Personnel from the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy ear notch a southern white rhino on March 10, 2020 for easy identification and monitoring. PHOTO | CHARLES WANYORO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The conservancy is now home to 109 black and 97 white rhinos which is about 14 per cent of Kenya’s total rhino population.

Speaking at the conservancy Tuesday, Dr Martin Mutinda, a veterinary officer with the Kenya Wildlife Service said the birth rate is good news.

Kenya put in place an ambitious plan to raise the dwindling population of rhinos in the country, targeting a five per cent growth rate every year.

“In the rhino management strategy, we aim for a five per cent annual growth rate and in Lewa, between 2017 and 2019, black rhinos growth rate stood at 9.5 while white rhinos had 10.5 per cent increase.

“We are way above the national five per cent strategy. We are dedicated towards moving the rhino away from the red endangered list,” said Dr Mutinda. The conservancy has made huge strides in containing poaching, with only one poaching incident recorded since November 2013.

Lewa introduced the ear notching to help conservationists identify individual rhino from another and track the animals and detect potential danger. Through the technology, the rhinos are monitored round the clock by rangers who have GPS enabled radio call and report on their locations in real time.

Last year, the conservancy for the second time made it to the prestigious IUCN Green List of protected areas, one of only three Kenyan organisations.