Southern African countries are upping the stakes against poachers, with particular focus being on stopping the illegal hunting of elephants and rhinos, which are prized for their tusks and horns respectively.
Alliances have been formed across national borders, with countries making full use of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza) and the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Kaza incorporates protected tansboundary territories in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe; while the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park brings together Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
In addition, there are related MoUs between Mozambique and Zimbabwe (Chimanimani Transfontier Conservation Area), Zambia and Zimbabwe (Mana Pools), and Greater Mapungubwe (South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe).
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management (ZimParks) director-general Dr Fulton Mangwanya last week said SADC-wide law enforcement and anti-poaching strategies were starting to bear fruit.
“SADC has more animals than any other region; hence we have joint management efforts to keep our wildlife. Member states often meet to craft ways of protecting wildlife and we are winning the war against poachers,” he said.
Dr Mangwanya, however, said a shortage of resources meant authorities were not doing as much as they wanted or could.
For instance, ZimParks needs to recruit about 1,000 rangers to add to the 2,171 who are already patrolling national parks. The department also requires more and better drones that can remain airborne for periods of up to 20 hours. The 12 drones currently in place can only go for 45 minutes before requiring a recharge.
In 2020, ZimParks recovered 10kg of rhino horns compared to 6,2kg in 2019; while 21 live pangolins were rescued in 2020 in comparison to 16 the prior year. At least seven pangolin trophies were recovered in 2020 down from 16 in 2019.
For illicit hunting of endangered species, 32 people were sentenced to various prison terms 531 cases are still under investigation. Authorities recovered 29 firearms and 322 bullets from poachers.
On the effects of COVID-19, Dr Mangwanya said the closure of borders had reduced tourist arrivals, and this in turn meant lower revenues, which constrained ZimParks’ operations.
“Tourism is at an all-time low; the same with hunting. There is no activity. We eat what we kill because we don’t get budgetary support. This has forced us to cut off projects and just focus on conservation and salaries,” said Dr Mangwanya. “We have used all that we have because business is extremely low. We are relying on a few lease holders who are also hard hit by COVID-19. This pandemic has caused a lot of problems.”
In Namibia, Environment, Forestry and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta says while the country is getting a better handle on poaching, there has been a rise in recorded cases of pangolin poaching.
The country recorded 31 cases of rhino poaching in 2020 compared to 52 in 2019, 81 in 2018, 55 in 2017, 66 in 2016 and 97 in 2015. The number of elephant poaching cases was 11 in 2020, 13 in 2019, 27 in 2018, 50 in 2017, 101 in 2016 and 49 in 2015.
For pangolins, eight live animals were recovered in 2020 along with five full carcasses, 59 skins, five skin pieces and 924 scales.
Minister Shifeta said, “More resources have been allocated to fighting poaching; more government agencies, non-governmental organisations, private sector actors, international development partners, communities and the general public have come on board to support our efforts to stop poaching. In this regard, we continue to reverse the trends of poaching as we have once again recorded fewer cases of poaching in the country.
“A number of higher level perpetrators were also arrested in Namibia between 2019 and 2020 while using middlemen and our strategy now is to go after the king pins and middlemen who drive the poaching syndicates. The point is to nip the poaching in the bud.”
The minister said the government was considering amnesties for poachers who spilt the beans on the rackets as a way of encouraging greater co-operation with law enforcement agencies.
Namibia’s Police Commissioner Sabastian Ndeitunga said concerted efforts by various stakeholders were behind the reduced cases of poaching.
Reporting by Alex Chapiko in Harare & Tiri Masawi in Windhoek