Written by: Mark Paxton
Elephants in the newly proclaimed Luenge-Luiana National Park in Angola seemed to have recovered well from over an entire generation of war that this country has endured. This area, previously UNITA occupied, has had time to adjust, and the proclamation of the park in May 2012 came as a welcome surprise.
For many of us this had shown that the KAZA concept could now finally actually be gaining ground, and we were all looking forward to this over nine million hectare park being managed as the star park in Angola. But alas, this seems not to have been the case, and interference from uncontrolled human settlements along the Cuito River boundary has resulted in escalating large scale poaching incidents in the neighbouring park, targeting mostly the elephants.
Two years ago for the first time in decades we were seeing elephants on the banks of the Okavango River in the Shamvura area where I live. Everybody in the area saw this as a positive and encouraging sign but I was sceptical. I have been involved in conservation and park management all my life so I could see this was actually a sign that the elephants in the interior of the park were being persecuted. As a result of this pressure, I could understand that they were forced to seek refuge and sanctuary further south towards the Okavango River areas, which previously they would only visit occasionally.
It was one of these pressured groups of between 20 and 40 animals that were attacked by poachers in the Kashira area recently. The incident happened at around 17h00 on Saturday, 23rd July, and was first reported to me by my staff and then by our nearest neighbours. I then received a call and was asked how to deal with this incident. I immediately contacted several top senior members of Nampol (the Namibian Police Service), MET (The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism) and then the regional commander of the Angolan Border Police in the Cuando/Cubango Province, Commander Mino. I also alerted several media contacts and subsequently, through other contacts, the Governor of the Cuando/Cubango province and the National Director of Ministry of Ambiente in Angola.
Yet, despite this prompt and widespread reporting to multiple authorities from both countries, it was only the following day that the scene was investigated, to find one carcass of the slaughtered elephants with all the tusks removed. Two other wounded animals were tracked but not found. The tusks from the slain animal had been transported that night over the river into Namibia where the authorities are apparently trying to trace their whereabouts and hopefully the poachers themselves.
This is not the first incident of poaching in this park that has been reported by me. In the last four years, I have reported four hippo and four crocodile poaching incidents, as well as many incidents of elephant and other wildlife meat being sold on the Namibian side of the river.
The river area is also constantly under threat from illegal fishermen and commercial fishing operations using numerous large nets on Angolan Government boats, apparently with the knowledge and permission of the administrator from Ndirico in Angola.
For years the Fisheries Inspectors and MET Officials have refused to react to these reports claiming that when Angolans are involved and any activity on the Angolan bank of the river is reported, they are not entitled to follow up and prosecute. I’ve become quite accustomed to the well-known excuse of, “our hands are tied.”
Strangely, Nampol does not use that excuse and I have managed many successful anti-poaching river patrols with the Nampol Border Police at Evero Border Post nearby. Several recent meetings with Angolan authorities confirm that they are only too willing to help but have never been approached to do so. I continue to get excellent help from Nampol, which has no problems involving their Angolan counterparts.
The poaching activities along the southern border of this park are beginning to have a severe impact on the Namibian tourism sector along the Okavango River. One of the recent hippo poaching incidents reported in this area occurred during an international fishing competition that was held on the river. Several boats were in the immediate vicinity where the incident took place and found themselves in the way of flying bullets, forcing them to immediately leave the area for fear of being shot. Obviously, word of the experience has spread and this does not do the area any good at all.
I understand that the Luenge-Luiana National Park has established a Rangers Corp within the park, which has a relatively well-equipped base station. I also understand that they are, however, under-equipped and in need of some support and training before they can be as effective as they should be. I chair the Namibian Chapter of the GRAA (Game Rangers Association of Africa) and we are hoping to get involved in Angola with our next AGM being there. We hope that, with our resources, we may well be able to offer the necessary assistance to give this park much needed professional support.
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