Namibian Sun

Ellanie Smit,
November 30, 2018

A multi-disciplinary taskforce that has been operating since the end of
July has made significant inroads in the fight against poaching, making 73
arrests.

According to the head of the police’s Protected Resources Unit,
Commissioner Barry de Klerk, the Blue Rhino Taskforce started operations on
30 July and has had phenomenal results.

De Klerk, says they realised that although there were specialised
anti-poaching units in the regions, they were overloaded and therefore the
taskforce was put together. The taskforce consists of fewer than 20 people
who were selected from specialised fields to combat the scourge of poaching
in the country.

According to De Klerk, several poaching and trafficking syndicates continue
to operate in Etosha National Park and on private farms. They have not been
dismantled and their enablers have also not been identified.

He said Blue Rhino seeks to identify, arrest and charge all syndicate
members, while also establishing linkages between syndicates.

?This operation seeks to ultimately provide a clearer picture of the flow
of illicit wildlife products and to provide a pathway for the in-depth
investigation and successful prosecution for the organised crime syndicates
responsible for the trafficking of wildlife products.?

De Klerk says from 30 July to 31 October Blue Rhino arrested 73 suspects
and opened 22 new dockets. Twelve of those arrested were linked to previous
cases.

The team also seized three rhino horns, 31 pangolin skins, 15 live
pangolins, 18 elephant tusks, one honey badger skin, one polecat skin and
two fake rhino horns.

The team seized four AK-47s, four .303 hunting rifles, one Dragunov sniper
rifle, one .300 hunting rifle, one .308 hunting rifle, one R4 assault
rifle, one G3 assault rifle, one shotgun, ammunition, 1 365 unpolished
diamonds, N$500 000 in cash and eight vehicles used for rhino poaching.

?These guys are armed and dangerous that is why the environment ministry
has for the past few years reinforced its officials in the parks with the
defence force and special forces.?

According to De Klerk, the serial numbers of 99% of the seized firearms had
been filed off.

He said the team was committed to consolidating all existing poaching case
dockets by verifying all witness statements and confessions.

They also scrutinise all the physical evidence collected and analyse the
results of laboratory, ballistics and DNA tests to confirm links between
different cases.

Blue Rhino also traces and arrests fugitive suspects, gathers and analyses
intelligence.

De Klerk says despite financial support from the Rooikat Trust, financial
constraints are hampering Blue Rhino’s operations.

The unit’s members work around the clock and since they started in July
they have only been home for one week.

?We want to get more people on board, provided we have the finances.

?They are working on old cases and some are old detectives who know how to
interrogate poachers, get confessions when they are caught and get
information on the handlers.?

Advocate Danie Small also forms part of the team and helps them to prepare
cases for court.

?It is amazing to see how these syndicates are operating and how they are
interlinked. There are a few poaching syndicates that are operating and
they are organised.?

Magistrate Alexa Diergaardt has pointed out that the poaching kingpins use
low-level poachers to do the killing and there rarely is direct evidence
linking them to the crimes.

De Klerk explains that the bottom-level poachers are dispensable and
usually know nothing about the syndicate’s workings.

He further said that the long, unguarded border with Angola offers an
escape route to poaching suspects. After they are granted bail they slip
into Angola, get new identification papers on that side and disappear.

https://www.namibiansun.com/news/elite-unit-nails-73-poachers2018-11-30/