By Annines Angula
Windhoek- Namibia has taken its unending fight against wildlife crime, especially the indiscriminate killing of rhinos and elephants, to another level, following the incorporation of an anti-poaching dog unit.
The new dog squad, an initiative of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and the Namibian Defence Force, was launched last week at its new base in the Waterberg Plateau National Park.
The unit consist of four German Shepherds, which are trained to search buildings, vehicles and open areas for firearms, bullets and illegal wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales and game meat, as well as follow human scent.
The dogs bought for R240 000 from Holland, were trained by USA based Invictus K9 and are being handled by members of the NDF. According to its website, the American company, Invictus K9 offers canine training and advisory packages for the ward on wildlife crime and homeland security.
It currently serves several countries in Africa including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo by providing handler training, and capacitate local law enforcement to work with the dogs including grooming and cleaning them.
Speaking during the induction of the anti-Poaching Dog Unit, Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta said the canines were sourced with funding from different resources including Save the Rhino and the United States of America Fish and Wildlife Services. The idea to incorporate anti-poaching dogs started in 2017, as the ministry seek to strengthen its focus on law-enforcement component of conservation to protect the country's wildlife from illegal hunting.
Minister Shifeta said the initiative came at a time when Namibia “is experiencing crime against wildlife particularly elephants and rhinos, which is sparked by international trade of their products
He said the dogs were obtained from trusted vendors in Holland due to their superior genetics and development. “They were imported to Namibia and immediately began six weeks of acclimation and pre-training by Invictus K9 trainers were a solid foundation in detection and tracking was laid,” he explained.
“The dog unit is the part of our anti-poaching initiatives and the wildlife protection division of the Ministry. We are confident that this will be a formidable unit in the fight against wildlife crime now and in the future. They will make a measurable, tangible different toward augmenting current law enforcement and conservation initiatives,” he said.
The dogs unit will be used to fight poaching in conservation areas including the Etosha National Park and Bwabwata National Park as well as entry points at airports and border posts. In addition, the ministry plans to acquire three more dogs by the end of this year.
The United States Ambassador to Namibia, Lisa Johnson said the acquisition of the dogs complements other US government-funded programmes to combat wildlife crime. "We want to stamp out poaching and trafficking, which harm Namibia's economy, at the same time, we want to ensure that the needs and rights of the Namibians who live in the proximity to wildlife are protected,” she said.
Although the Namibian government has invested heavily in anti-poaching programmes with assistance from the private sector and international partners, the killing of rhinos and elephants remains a big challenge.
As of August this year, official count from the Minister of Environment show that 35 rhino poaching incidents have been recorded.