No mercy for poachers

Anti-poaching police units, reinforced by soldiers, have been ordered to return fire if they are attacked by poachers.

30 December 2016 | Crime

JANA-MARI SMITH



Two more poachers were killed in the north-eastern Bwabwata National Park on Tuesday in a shootout with anti-poaching units, mere weeks after Namibia’s environment minister warned that anti-poaching operations would no longer be “business as usual”.

A third poacher was critically wounded and a fourth arrested. The unit confiscated weapons and ammunition following the shootout.

Less than two weeks ago an anti-poaching unit in the same park shot and killed another poacher who had just gunned down an elephant and fired at the police officers.

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta yesterday made it clear that new orders had been given to anti-poaching units two weeks ago, and poachers should know that the police would shoot back if attacked.

“Our units are more than ready to deal with them without mercy. No more business as usual,” he posted on a social media account this week.

He said during this week’s shootout the poachers had started firing at the unit and “our forces responded with decisive firepower.”

Shifeta told Namibian Sun yesterday that the latest incident took place in a forested area of the Bwabwata National Park. The anti-poaching patrol came across the poachers, who immediately started firing at them.

Shifeta said patrols were increased in all national parks and other wilderness areas after a zero-tolerance directive was issued on 15 December.

“We don’t want to hear of any more poaching in our parks or anywhere in the country,” he told Namibian Sun yesterday.

He added on social media that that the new measures were also directed at “foreign nationals who deal in wildlife products or are in possession of contraband wildlife products or who handle local people and entice them to commit poaching.”

Anti-poaching units have been reinforced by experienced soldiers and the frequency of ground and aerial patrols has been increased in areas targeted by poachers.

Shifeta said poaching groups were usually armed with one hunting rifle to shoot at wildlife while the rest of the group were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, “which means they are ready for battle”.

“That is why we have to bring in the special units from the defence force. Because police officers are a peace force … and we have learned that the poachers are geared for battle, so that now we have combined units that can defend themselves.”

He warned that any poacher who “attempts to fire at law enforcement officers who are protecting our wildlife resources will regret it.”

Shifeta said new measures did not mean the anti-poaching units were trigger happy, “but if our law enforcement personnel’s lives come under immediate threat the instruction is loud and clear, they have to invoke the Criminal Procedure Act for self-defence.”

Besides the order to return fire if shot at, anti-poaching units have been instructed to do everything in their power to ensure that firearms in possession of poachers are confiscated.

He pointed out that the AK-47 is an assault rifle used in combat. They are usually acquired illegally and smuggled into Namibia and can be used for crimes other than poaching.

“So that means that they have to disable those poachers … we do not want the poachers to run away armed with dangerous weapons. That is something we will no longer tolerate.”

He warned poachers that there should be no doubt that “our units are well trained with special skills”.

Shifeta emphasised that in addition to intensifying anti-poaching measures on the ground, the police have been given clear instructions to conduct thorough searches at roadblocks. Business or residential properties occupied by Asians will also be searched, with the necessary warrants.

“We are not discriminating as they are alleging … But the statistics show that those in possession of contraband products are mostly Asians and therefore we are basing this on what the statistics show, and applying ourselves according to that.”

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