RHINO poaching can be stopped dead in its tracks, and Namibia can show South Africa, Africa and the world how to do this.
Namibia has created wildlife conservatories that employ local people, pay them to use their land as wildlife reserves, and relies on their eyes and ears on the ground to spot poaching. Rehabilitated poachers are now assisting in the fight against poaching.
Over the last few years, Namibia has had few incidents of rhino poaching and this was set to be a rhino poaching-free year — unfortunately, a female rhino carcass was found in the remote, desolate and sparsely populated area of Damaraland.
Habitats of this nature are a poacher’s dream. Swift action was taken by the local community and in no time the alleged poacher was arrested and the rhino horns were recovered.
The figures are a testimony to what works: In 2010, two rhino were poached in Namibia. In South Africa, the figure was 333. In 2011 in Namibia, zero were poached compared to 448 in South Africa. Last year, one rhino was poached in Namibia, while 668 were killed in South Africa.
And up to February 20 this year, no rhinos had been poached in Namibia, while 102 had been poached in South Africa. The total number of rhinos poached between 2006 and 2012 stand at five in Namibia and 1,805 in South Africa.
Much has been said about rhino poaching and how to stop it: dehorning, better protection by the state and private security companies, stricter law enforcement, harsher sentences, co-operation at national and international government level, dealing with international crime syndicates by involving Interpol and other major crime fighting agencies.
These very expensive methods have achieved very little success.
A new approach is required. The major crime syndicates are successful because, among others things, they add value to the living conditions of poor peasant communities in South America, Afghanistan, Cambodia and even in South Africa and elsewhere.
These subsistence farmers produce coco leaves, poppy plants and dagga. The drug lords either buy from them, or pay them to work on their farms.
Why can’t we make communities living in and around the parks our partners in fighting crime?
We resettled them.
We forcefully removed them. They were treated like impediments to conservation. Why should they assist in the fight against poaching? The poachers use them as aids in their diabolical operations.
The local communities know where the rhinos are grazing and when the game rangers are operating in their areas.
Criminals pay them for this intelligence when they plan their raids. These communities are turning a blind eye. They have no interest in the survival of the rhinos. It means nothing for their hungry children or their sick wives, and the only ones who are really gaining are the poachers.
Namibia has succeeded in turning this around. The Namibian elephant herds have doubled and t he number of black rhino herds has stabilised. This was made possible by creating wildlife conservatories.
A conservation miracle. Communities were no longer forcefully removed or resettled. They were allowed to remain — or resettled on their ancestral land.
They lived in and around protected areas. They became economic and conservation partners. Communities are employed in the parks and game lodges as tourist guides, hunters, drivers and many other available positions.
Conservation adds value to the lives of these communities. They have a vested interest and will protect and conserve what has become their livelihood and way of life.
Make the poachers game rangers and conservationists. South Africa can learn from this.
Parliamentary and stakeholder relations, Department of Tourism