While the rest of the country has been locked down for a considerable time, the rangers and game guards who protect Namibia’s wildlife could not drop their vigilance for a day. Rangers, game guards and anti-poaching units, whether they operate on state, communal or private land, had to continue to serve as a last line of defence between the animals and the poachers.
According to the Namibian Chamber of the Environment, anti-poaching activities include an important partnership between the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT), the Namibian Police Force (NAMPOL) and the Namibian Defence Force (NDF), supported by various non-governmental partners.
These efforts, however, are now threatened by insufficient funding, mostly as a result of the devastating global lockdowns as well as the local lockdown. All conservation is supported to a very large degree by the income generated from tourism. When the tourists disappeared, the main source of funding to protect Namibia’s pristine wildlife, also disappeared.
In a report on the benefits of tourism for conservation, the chamber stated: “A significant portion of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism’s budget is derived from revenue generated from international photographic and hunting tourists. While national parks like Etosha use the income from entrance fees to manage the park, which includes anti-poaching patrols, the Game Products Trust Fund channels revenue from hunting into critical species management and anti-poaching work across the country. Without these inputs from tourism, the ministry’s budget is likely to be severely diminished, especially considering the broader economic downturn in the wake of the pandemic.”
“Similarly, communal conservancies rely almost entirely on tourism of one form or another to generate their own cash income (about N$61 million in 2018) and many conservancy residents are employed in this sector (with salaries amounting to N$65 million in 2018). The conservancies use their income to employ game guards, who are the backbone of the conservancy system and work at the frontline of community-based anti-poaching efforts. The massive blow suffered by tourism will likely result in many job losses among conservancy residents and severely hamper the conservancies’ ability to pay their game guards.”
Even conservation on private land is affected since lodges, guesthouses and game ranches are a significant employer but the income derives from tourism in a variety of flavours. Game guards form an important group in this type of employment and when revenues are depleted, their ability to continue their work is also affected which has a spillover effect on conservation.
That public, communal and private conservation efforts are very effective, is supported by the data on wildlife crime.
The official wildlife crime report for 2019 reveals that rhino and elephant poaching have declined substantially over the last few years (Fig. 1 and 2). Pangolin poaching is a newer, increasing threat that is receiving ever more attention from law enforcement agencies. Of particular note is that the number of rhino-related pre-emptive arrests has increased continuously from zero in the first half of 2018 to over 25 during the first quarter of 2020 which have certainly saved many rhinos (Fig. 3).
Figure 1. Rhino poaching statistics from the 2019 annual report. Note that this is based on carcasses that are discovered in the field, and records are based on the estimated date of the rhino’s death rather than the date of discovery.
Figure 2. Elephant poaching statistics from the 2019 annual report. Note that this is based on carcasses that are discovered in the field, and records are based on the estimated date of the elephant’s death rather than the date of discovery.
Figure 3. Rhino-related arrests during 2018 and 2019. Note that pre-emptive arrests have increased from late 2018 into 2019 and this trend continues in 2020.
“The communal conservancies in the Kunene and Erongo Regions have proven especially effective in preventing rhino poaching; with zero rhinos were poached from August 2017 until March 2020. The recent case5 of two poached rhinos in Puros Conservancy shows that, despite the success thus far, anti-poaching efforts must continue. Indeed, even while most of us have stayed at home, MEFT rangers, conservancy game guards, Save the Rhino Trust rangers, and private anti-poaching teams have remained on high alert and continued their patrols.
“There seems to have been a slight lull in wildlife crime during recent months, as anti-poaching teams and law enforcement officers have maintained their relentless pace regardless of the lockdown. Unfortunately, this may just be the calm before the storm. The economic downturn and widespread job losses will force more people into poverty and make joining the illegal wildlife trade that much more attractive, while poaching for subsistence may become a critical means of survival for some rural households. It is also possible that reduced tourist presence will embolden poachers who may feel that their activities will go unnoticed. At the same time, all the dedicated conservation partners will continue to experience financial pressure and will have to stretch their resources to the very limit.
Caption: Game guard Pineas Kasaona. (Photograph by NACSO/WWF-Namibia)