I would like to share a brief piece of a rhino poaching episode on the largest private reserve in Namibia. It took place on 1 September, 2016.
We had the recent privilege and pleasure to spend five days on our old familiar stomping grounds, Erindi Private Game Reserve http://www.erindi.com. On 31 August we sadly departed and were driven back to Omujeve Hunting Safaris main headquarters, about a three hour drive. During the drive I asked our driver, Gorti, if any poaching has taken place on the reserve. He answered, not to date, but it was inevitable. He further explained the Chinese were offering $20,000 $N to anyone who could sneak them onto the reserve. Also some ex employees were very attuned to the ins and outs of the daily ritual at the huge property, and sooner or later something bad would happen. Let me state here Erindi is huge, two hundred sixty-eight square miles in one block. It has three public access points and each is manned 24/7 by armed guards. Serious guys with the African arm of choice, an AK-47, slung on their shoulders at all times. They provide security and, simultaneously, a possible means to an end. Gorti has worked Erindi for a long stretch, and we were not waved through the gate, but checked up close and personal as we entered and left the reserve.
The next day over a late breakfast at Omujeve the phones lit up with the news of a rhino poached. It took place many miles from the perimeter in an area known as “the canyon”. I know it well having spent many months scouring the area for dik-dik and leopard. The rhino carcass was discovered by some tourists on a “self-drive” route from the Elephant Camp lodge location on Erindi. The discovery occurred approximately 1 – 2 hours after the deed was done. The alarm was sounded and the gates sealed for entry/exit. The police were notified. This was a most alarming precedent, and a first at the crown jewel of Nambian tourism. The black rhino is considered government property regardless of where it resides and Erindi is NO exception.
Fast forward to Tueday, 6 September. The poachers were apprehended in a small town north of Erindi. They were four in number. One Namibian, two Zambian’s, and one Angolan. A hunting rifle and a silenced AK-47 were recovered along with the rhino horn. Justice prevailed right? Not so fast, enter the “logical” application of African thought.
The poachers were remanded into custody and their arrest celebrated with a lengthy news report from the government extolling the performance of all the “shareholders” involved. Despite reportage to the contrary, two of the “poachers” were released on bail, and two others remain in custody, however, as of today their whereabouts is strangely “unknown”. A preliminary hearing was set for late November 2016.
Facts be damned, all the anti-poaching hoopla and rhetoric aside, it seems to me Africa tolerates, and even encourages poaching as a mechanism to garner publicity and much needed funding from concerned individuals/groups. Serious anti-poaching efforts demand execution of all involved, including their highly placed sponsors. A few public executions of all involved would go a long way to place the burden of this heinous industry on notice. With no real impediment, outside a few national parks in other nations, where is the downside?
The bushmeat industry, fueled by poaching flourishes, the trade in ivory and rhino horn is widely publicized but with no real results. It will take serious international application of an unprecedented scale to slow this tide. Can you see that happening? Sure. Right after World War III. Let us do the symbolic. Outlaw sport hunted ivory. Burn national ivory stockpiles for public display. Bemoan the crisis in every possible media forum, simply to generate funding for this cause or that to line someone’s pockets. Everybody wants to Save the Rhino (or fill in your favorite animal), but only if it financially benefits them…
I now surrender the soapbox, free of charge for the next person (Ivan ?) who wishes to shout against the winds of change… it’s all about the money…