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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Urgent Help Needed: Sign the Petition to Say No to Marine Phosphate Mining!

Please sign the petition against Marine Phosphate Mining here:

Our youth face a bleak future. By 2050, studies show that there may be no more fish in the sea because of what we are doing to the ocean worldwide. This is bad news for the environment across the planet. In a desert country like Namibia, this is a serious threat on a basic survival level: fish are good for food security, especially in times of drought.

Yet, at this most critical time of drought, our government is being asked by international marine phosphate mining companies to compromise the integrity of Namibia’s environmental laws by promoting industry that will directly and dramatically decrease the sustainability of the living marine resources, leaving behind an ocean that cannot provide for current or future generations.

The Environmental and Social Impacts of Marine Phosphate Mining

Worldwide, land based phosphate mining and processing has left a serious pollution problem behind. This is because phosphate rock contains various metals and radioactive elements. Among these elements are heavy metals which include: Cadmium, Arsenic, Lead, Mercury, Chromium, Vanadium, Selenium and two radioactive elements, Uranium and Thorium. Levels of radioactive materials are typically much higher in marine phosphate.

Phosphate mining of the seafloor is a major concern for leading marine scientists worldwide. In Australia, the Government of the Northern Territory considered all seafloor mining as such a threat that a moratorium was imposed while further environmental and risk assessments were conducted. Namibia followed suit and also placed a moratorium on marine phosphate mining in 2013 while a strategic environmental assessment was conducted. Although this study is not yet complete, Cabinet is still deciding whether this moratorium should continue. In the meantime, the Environmental Commissioner has granted Environmental Clearance for a marine phosphate company to go forward, despite the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources legal request not to grant the Clearance.

This is after other countries have repeatedly prohibited marine phosphate mining due to its dangerous implications for the marine environment. In 2016, Mexico’s federal environmental authority denied a license for the Don Diego marine phosphate mining project because the project would destroy the seabed‐dwelling organisms on which the endangered loggerhead turtles feed.

Specialists and international experts have identified significant and critical issues that require further investigation and to date these have not been addressed by the companies seeking to mine marine phosphates in Namibia. Some of the critical environmental impacts include:

Impacts on the Ocean
‐ Dredging of 3 metres of the sea floor will cause direct irreparable destruction to the building blocks of the marine ecosystem in the benthos layer causing direct harm to the food supply chain for endangered sea turtles, endangered marine mammals, fish and humans.

‐There will be direct harm to hatcheries for fish species such as juvenile monk and hake.

‐ There are serious potential negative effects on the spawning of fish.

‐ There are serious potential negative effects of a disturbed ecosystem (turbidity) on marine predators including hake and endangered African penguins.

‐The release of hazardous substances including radioactive materials, methane gas, and hydrogen sulphide will directly kill wildlife and cause many commercial fish stocks including hake and monk to be unmarketable and not sale quality as food quality regulations for export are stringent.

‐ Plumes will negatively affect zoo‐plankton, another building block of the Benguela current marine ecosystem, further causing harm to marine wildlife including endangered marine mammals.

‐ Soluble phosphate entering the water and acting like a fertilizer will increase algal blooms and harm shellfish and other species.

‐ Change in the nutrient balance in upwelling will affect the Benguela Current marine ecosystem which relies heavily on the upwelling of nutrients which are carefully balanced.

‐ Noise and hazardous waste pollution will directly affect and potentially damage endangered marine mammals irreversibly.

‐ Increase in phosphate nutrients will increase algae and bacteria in the water making salt for salt mining too poor of a quality for sale.

‐ Poor quality sea water will hamper the aquaculture industry.

Impacts on the Land
‐ A buffer pond containing radioactive substances is set to be placed by the internationally protected RAMSAR site of Sandwich Harbour and a National Park, causing direct harm to the legally protected land ecosystem.

‐ A pipeline will cross through two National Parks carrying radioactive substances, further exposing the public and the wildlife to radiation.

‐ A processing plant and tailings dam by the sewerage works in Walvis Bay will disperse radioactive materials and chemicals into underground water and through the air.

‐ The potential for flood events and sea level rise will cause radioactive and chemical waste to be released throughout the town of Walvis Bay as well as into the surrounding National Parks.

‐ Plans to release waste products and seawater back into the ocean will cause additional negative impacts on marine life.

‐ Water requirements of 320 cubic metres of fresh non‐potable water per hour will impact on the local desert communities and environment to which this fresh water is a vital resource, especially in the hyper‐arid coastline during times of drought.

The Laws of Namibia are Being Blatantly Ignored

The Constitution states that the government must maintain essential ecological processes and biological diversity on a sustainable basis for current and future generations. The late honourable Chief Justice Mahomed described the Constitution as a " a mirror reflecting the national soul/the identification of the ideals and aspirations of a nation, the articulation of the values bonding its people and disciplining its government." Honourable President Hage Geingob recently was quoted in agreement stating that “The environment is part and parcel of Namibia’s foundation of democracy, peace and stability. It has been so in the past, it is so today and will be so tomorrow. Protection of the environment is enshrined in our Constitution.” Ignoring the Constitutional provision which protects the environment would be like losing the soul of our nation.

This Constitutional provision led to the formation of the Environmental Management Act of 2007 and the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations of 2012. These laws protect the people and state clearly that “the participation of all interested and affected parties must be promoted and decisions must take into account the interest, needs and values of interested and affected parties.” Interested and affected parties have raised numerous concerns in the past and substantial concerns by the public and scientists about significant effects have been effectively brushed under the surface. Cumulative impacts of various activities on the marine and land environment have also not been considered. Yet according to Namibian law, these studies must be conducted prior to any decision being taken and the cumulative and potential significant effects of activities on the environment raised by concerned parties must be considered in time and carefully.

To date, public and scientific consultation as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process has been inadequate and not in accordance with Namibian law, International Seabed Authority guidelines, or International Best Practice standards. The Environmental Commissioner of Namibia and the proponents of marine phosphate mining have failed to conduct public consultation as required under section 6 of Namibia's Environmental Management Act (2007), and sections 16 and 19 of the Environmental Assessment Regulations (2012).

According to the Environmental Management Act of 2007, damage to the environment must be prevented and activities which cause such damage must be reduced, limited or controlled. In addition, the law enshrines the precautionary principle stating that all decisions must be made with caution especially when there is a lack of full scientific certainty about possible environmental degradation. The burden is on the marine mining companies to remove all doubt of the environmental impact if they wish for the mining projects to go forward. Yet, they have never made their so-called “scientific studies” available to the public or other interested and affected parties. Instead, they expect the government of Namibia to ignore its own seriously concerned public and make a decision based on flawed reports that have very little scientific basis and contain no public consultation process. The mining companies hope to gain a larger profit by ignoring the laws of Namibia.

Namibia's Vision 2030 warns of this and states that it is unacceptable for there to be increasing pollution, coastal degradation and biodiversity loss. It also states that it is unacceptable for industry to become too powerful and exert pressure on the government.

Finally, the Environmental Management Act of 2007 states that renewable resources must be used on a sustainable basis for the benefit of present and future generations. Fishing, aquaculture, tourism and salt mining, when managed properly, have proven to offer a substantial potentially sustainable benefit to the Namibian economy over the long‐term. In fact the fishing industry alone offers $4.8 billion dollars in foreign currency earnings and directly employs around 15,000 people. Yet marine phosphate mining is a direct threat to the continued existence of these and other industries, such as tourism, as demonstrated by a significant number of marine and social specialists. According to Namibian environmental laws, the government is required to prioritize industry that causes the least damage to the environment over industry that causes more damage. Simply put, in no way must an unsustainable short‐term option be adopted at the expense of the potentially sustainable long‐term option.

The Decision

The government must not take its decisions lightly. They are deciding what world Namibian children and future generations will be faced with and how likely they will be to survive. In Namibia it is the duty of the government to ensure a sustainable environment for current and future generations. The government of Namibia must choose whether they will fall under the pressure of international mining giants to ignore critical provisions of law that protect the environment and the people of Namibia or whether they will take pride in their entrusted duty under the Constitution to ensure a sustainable environment for current and future generations. May the highest authorities in Namibia hear the plea of the people and say no to marine phosphate mining once and for all.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Help Needed: Live Capture of Marine Species- Petition and March

We need help! Please help us by signing the petition and joining us in a peaceful march for our marine wildlife.

As you may have heard, there are 1 or more Chinese companies applying to the Namibian Government for the yearly live capture and export of the following animals:

* 10 Orca (Killer Whales)
* 500-1000 Cape Fur Seals
* 300-500 African Penguins
* 50-100 Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins
* 50-100 Common Bottlenose Dolphins
* Various Sharks and other species

Some of these animals do not even exist in Namibia and others are being placed at a quota larger than the amount that exist in our waters.

If you are concerned about this and have not yet signed the petition, please do so here:

Please also share this with others that may be concerned, whether they live in Namibia or not. This is of international concern, as these species are migratory.

For those of you that would also like to do more to help, there will be a peaceful march against the live capture of our marine wildlife this week in Walvis Bay. This is a concern for all Namibians and we would like all sectors of society to be involved.

There is official permission from the Municipal Traffic Department and Nampol to march and hand over the manual petition at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in Walvis Bay.

When : FRIDAY 14th October 2016
Gathering : Parking area opposite SeaPride
Time Start : 15h00 (so gathering from 14h30 onwards) *We have to depart punctually at 15h00*
Route : Namport to Synchro to MFMR
Please diarize the date and time and start creating some amazing posters for the walk!

T-shirts can be ordered directly from Alida at Dreamworld Creations by sms / whatts app 081 244 4331.

Please share the message and invite as many people as possible to attend.

Thanks once again to everyone for the support.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Op-Ed: Namibia ducks elephant census


Originally Published in the Daily Maverick AFRICA 30 SEP 2016 12:19 (SOUTH AFRICA)
Re-posted from

Namibian Elephants © Eric Bauer via Flicker
The results of the most comprehensive survey of African elephants ever undertaken – the Great Elephant Census (GEC) announced last month – have a worrying hole: Namibia. Although it was afforded the opportunity to have its elephants counted, free of charge and subject to the highest international standards, it elected not to participate. By CHRISTIAAN BAKKES and MARCIA FARGNOLI.
Namibia’s stance at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference presently taking place in Johannesburg makes the reasons for not taking part in the census clear: it wants to be able to hunt elephants and sell ivory. Among the 10 countries of the African Coalition backing the closure of domestic ivory markets – a position agreed to by the CITES working group last week – Namibia was notably absent.
The country insists it should be granted special permission to trade in ivory because it claims to have a stable, growing population of elephants. Its trade proposal was denied at a recent conference of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in Hawaii. Namibia had already proposed the legalised ivory trade to CITES for consideration at COP 17 being held in Johannesburg this week
In a report to CITES, Namibia claimed its elephant population was 22,711, of which 13,136 live in the northeast of the country. But this is impossible to verify.
The fact that Namibia did not participate in the GEC survey begs the question about the data on which it bases its claim. There are also discrepancies in its poaching statistics. If the population is unknown and is subject to increased poaching or is in large part migratory, should trade even be considered at all?
Namibia’s inconsistent estimates and statements are worrying. With regard to rhino poaching, for example, Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta,said recently that about 162 rhinos were poached between January 2015 and August 2016. He later announced that about 125 rhinos were killed from January to December 2015 while another 35 carcasses were discovered in 2016. In the authorised CITES reportNamibia submitted for CoP17, the record of rhinos poached in Namibia in 2015 was put at 90, meaning that a large number of poached rhinos were subsequently left out of the official CITES statistics for 2015.
With regard to hunting, there’s a problem of who owns the elephants. A large number in Namibia’s narrow Caprivi Strip are undoubtedly migrating to and from Botswana and do not belong to Namibia alone. This is one reason why international conservation laws such as CITES aim to protect animals that move between countries. No state can independently decide the fate of migratory animals.
This is highlighted in the SADC Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement (1999) to which Namibia is party. It states that “each party shall ensure that activities within its jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the wildlife resources of other states”.
While Namibia has persistently issued hunting permits for elephants and lobbies to trade in ivory, these decisions could cause damage animals under the protection of other states.
Namibia also signed the London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade (2014) which binds signatories to oppose the trade in wildlife products where they could stimulate poaching, trafficking or demand. A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research has demonstrated that legal ivory sales only serve to intensify poaching, trafficking and demand. At the IUCN conference it was noted and agreed upon.
IUCN also agreed that “any elephant ivory supply, including legal domestic markets, creates opportunities for the laundering of illegal elephant ivory under the guise of legality”. This is particularly concerning given the hard-to-control, porous borders between Namibia, Angola, and Zambia. Even if Namibia’s elephant population was stable (though how can we know?), it remains almost impossible to control poaching in this area, let alone the laundering of ivory.
The GEC has verified that a virtual elephant genocide is taking place across Africa. Before the census, many experts – including those from the IUCN – believed that there were around 600,000 savanna elephants left in Africa. However, the GEC arrived at a count of only 352,271, far less than what was previously estimated, representing a probable 30% decrease in just seven years.
The numbers of this slaughter are staggering. The GEC claims Africa lost 144,000 elephants since 2007, at a rate of around 2,000 a year. Angola, Cameroon, Mozambique and Tanzania seem to be the worst affected countries.
Namibia is one of the few countries in Africa that wishes to legalise the ivory trade. Instead it should err on the side of caution in accordance with its own laws and international obligations and should acknowledge that the legal sale of ivory could accelerate the demise of the species. Elephants are already facing a continental crisis. Any miscalculation could accelerate their decline. DM
Photo: Namibian elephants (Eric Bauer via Flickr)

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Stop the Live Capture of our Marine Species

Whale in Walvis Bay © Marcia Fargnoli
A Chinese company has applied to the Namibian Government for the yearly live capture and export of the following animals:

* 10 Orca (Killer Whales)
* 500-1000 Cape Fur Seals
* 300-500 African Penguins
* 50-100 Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins
* 50-100 Common Bottlenose Dolphins
* Various Sharks and other species

This must be stopped!

Please add your voice to help us stop the live capture of our marine species in Namibia by clicking on this link and adding your email address to sign the petition:

Dear Hon. Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Bernhard Esau,

Thank you for affording us the forum to voice our concerns about the marine environment.

We would like to bring your attention to an urgent concern regarding a proposal to the Namibian Government for the yearly live capture and export of marine animals including Orca (Killer Whales), Cape Fur Seals, African Penguins, and Bottlenose Dolphins, as well as sharks and other species which have not been disclosed.

We are alarmed by this proposal. All species intended for this live capture are listed on either Appendix I or Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These marine wildlife are shared migratory species and do not belong to Namibia alone. These wildlife are specially protected under international law and any trade is subject to strict CITES regulation.  
This law requires Namibia to prove that any trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. In addition CITES Articles III(2)(b) and IV(2)(b) require that these wildlife are not obtained in contravention of the laws of Namibia.

We appreciate that, in accordance with Namibian law, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources must follow the Constitution and apply section 3 of the Environmental Management Act (2007) upon its decision making under the Marine Resources Act (2000). 

There is insufficient data available to the public on the status of the proposed marine species, however scientific estimates suggest that several of these species are either declining, rare or endangered in Namibian waters. Removing any of these species from the ecosystem would be in conflict with the supreme law of the land, the Namibian Constitution, which states that all wildlife must be maintained on a sustainable basis for present and future generations as an inheritance to our children. Sustainability requires a species to be available in the long term for future generations and to never be depleted.

In accordance with section 3 of the Environmental Management Act (2007), we, as interested and affected parties, would like our interest, needs and values taken into account in the decision regarding the harvest of live marine wildlife.

We assert that the functional integrity of the marine ecosystem can be badly damaged by removing critical marine wildlife. Each species has an important role to play in the correct functioning of the ecosystem. Removing any of them can cause irreversible damage to the entire food chain. We contend that removing numerous critical species from the ecosystem is unsustainable and can cause a collapse. The biological diversity of the marine ecosystem must be protected and respected for the benefit of present and future generations.

Namibia‘s Environmental Management Act (2007) enshrines the Precautionary Principle in law to ensure that cautious decisions are made with regard to the wildlife. In order to ensure sustainability of the entire marine ecosystem, we urgently request the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to err on the side of caution and be careful of an unintended collapse caused by removing marine wildlife from the ecosystem.

Damage to the marine wildlife and ecosystem must be prevented.

We thank you in advance for taking into account our serious concerns for our marine wildlife and the functional integrity of the marine ecosystem.

We urge you to deny any permit application to capture and export live marine animals. As part of the public consultation process, we trust that our concerns will be heard.

Please add your voice to help us stop the live capture of our marine species in Namibia by clicking on this link and adding your email address to sign the petition: 

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Migration to Extinction


Elephants in Etosha National Park
© Marcia Fargnoli
A Blank Space on the Map

On the official map of the Great Elephant Census (GEC) there is a conspicuous blank space cutting through a migrating elephant population. This blank space is the Zambezi region of Namibia- the narrow strip formerly known as the Caprivi. This is the only place in the region where elephant population statistics are unverified.

It is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation area. This area includes Northern Botswana, South-Eastern Angola and South-Western Zambia, with Namibia wedged in between.

According to the statistics of the GEC, South-Western Zambia is showing an alarming decline in elephant numbers at more than 5%. Angola shows a decline of 2-5%. Botswana's elephant numbers are rated as stable with a population of approximately 130,000. 

In between lies Namibia. In a recent CITES report Namibia has given its official elephant numbers as 22,711, of which 13,136 live in the North-East of the country.

It is, however impossible to verify those numbers, because Namibia decided not to be part of the GEC. Of all the countries with substantial elephant populations, Namibia was the only one that elected not to participate.

Namibia is also one of the few countries in Africa that aims to legalise the ivory trade.

Elephants in the Ugab River
© Christiaan Bakkes
The Trade Debate
A study published in June 2016 by the National Bureau of Economic Research produced damning evidence that the 2008 once-off sale in legal ivory served to fuel the demand, resulting in increased elephant poaching.   The researchers from Princeton University and the University of California-Berkeley demonstrate in their study that the legal sale directly caused the increase in illegal ivory production by about 66 percent resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 elephants. Although the sale was approved by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) with the intention to satisfy the ivory demand in China and Japan, it only served to have the opposite effect.

Namibia took part in that sale.

According to Solomon Hsiang, one of the authors of the study, now that the data has proven that legal ivory sales result in the increase in poaching, legalizing the sale of ivory should not be considered again. Yet, Namibia, along with Japan, aimed to get approval to allow for a regulated domestic ivory trade at an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii.  The Congress did not approve the amendments proposed by these two countries and upheld the motion to close all domestic ivory trade. 

In addition, many African countries have proposed for all African elephants to receive the highest protection with no option for trade in ivory under an Appendix I listing by CITES.  In opposition, Namibia has submitted a proposal that their elephants remain on Appendix II which would allow for a future legal trade in ivory under another proposal.  These proposals are currently being deliberated at the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP 17) in Johannesburg.

Elephants in the Hoanib River
© Marcia Fargnoli
Maintaining Wildlife on a Sustainable Basis

Elephants and rhinos are specially protected in Namibia and according to the Constitution must be maintained on a sustainable basis for present and future generations. Sustainability requires a species to be available in the long term for future generations and to never be depleted.  Namibia‘s Environmental Management Act (2007) enshrines the Precautionary Principle in law to ensure that cautious decisions are made with regard to the wildlife.

The Namibian government encourages hunting and the exporting of trophies as part of the National Policy on Tourism for Namibia (2008) and the Policy on Tourism and Wildlife Concessions on State Land.  In these policies, the government claims that money generated from such practices can be used to protect the wildlife and discourage poaching by the communities. In 2016, Namibia’s Cabinet directed the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to “actively campaign against any attempt to ban or restrict hunting and the export of wildlife products from Namibia.”

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism “has established a national annual export quota through CITES of 90 trophy hunted elephants per year (180 tusks per year).”Proponents of elephant hunting and trading in their trophies claim that it is sustainable. 

However, especially in the event of a decreasing elephant population or a rise in poaching, it is practical to question how it can be considered sustainable to legally hunt or trade in a species that is facing a poaching crisis and is vulnerable to extinction.

It could be disastrous if Namibia has overestimated how many elephants it has or underestimated the poaching crisis.  In this situation, the result of hunting, poaching and trading in ivory could seriously drive the species further towards extinction. 

Here, the Precautionary Principle must be implemented in accordance with Namibia‘s Environmental Management Act (2007) to ensure sustainability of the species.  When the exact result from the combination of hunting, poaching and trading is not fully known, the adopted policy must err on the side of caution and be careful of unintended consequences. 

Elephant in the Zambezi Region
©Marcia Fargnoli
Elephant Population Status

In order to understand the best policy decisions with regard to protection of wildlife such as elephants, it is critical to understand the accurate status of the species.

With regard to the actual state of elephants in Africa, the Great Elephant Census (GEC) recently announced its findings after conducting a 2 year intense survey. This continental elephant count produced startling results.

Before the census, many experts, including those from the IUCN, believed that there were around 600,000 savanna elephants left in Africa. However, the GEC produced a count of only 352,271 elephants, far less than what was previously estimated, representing a 30% decrease in just seven years.

According to a recent CITES report, Namibia claims to have a stable and growing elephant population of 22,711 elephants.Namibia had the opportunity to have their elephant statistics subjected to the highest international standards with expert peer review under the GEC at no cost to Namibia, but it chose not to.  If Namibia has such a large population of elephants, why did it choose not to be part of the GEC?  The reason is unknown.

During the GEC, many elephants were fitted with satellite collars in order to plot migration routes and cross border movements. The monitoring of elephant movement in such a manner brought important evidence to light. For example, the satellite images of the census clearly illustrate how collared elephants that lived in Zambia, Angola and Namibia in 2011 moved and became concentrated together in Northern Botswana by 2014.

Botswana came out of the census as the African country with the most elephants at 130,000.

When questioning the actual state of Namibia’s elephants, it is important to note that Namibia has submitted official statistics to CITES that states that some 13,136 of Namibia’s 22,711 elephants are located in the north-eastern part of the country. This makes them part of the migratory herds that move freely between Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola. Many of them could already be included in Botswana’s count and Namibia may be overestimating how many elephants it currently has. 

Having the correct statistics should help national and international authorities to make the correct decisions on how best to protect the species. It is difficult to be sure for Namibia, as the data has unfortunately not been verified. 

Elephants in the Hoanib River
© Marcia Fargnoli
The Poaching Crisis

The GEC has verified reports on an elephant genocide across Africa. The numbers of this slaughter are staggering. The research team of the GEC claim Africa has lost 144,000 elephants since 2007, at a rate of around 27,000 a year. Angola, Cameroon, Mozambique and Tanzania seem to be the worst affected countries.

In Namibia, there are some inconsistencies in poaching statistics.  With regard to rhinos, for example, recently Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, stated in a press release that approximately 162 rhinos have been poached between January 2015 and August 2016. The Minister disclosed that about 125 rhinos were killed from January to December 2015 alone while another 35 carcasses were discovered in 2016. There is a discrepancy in official reports, however. In the authorised CITES report submitted for CoP17, the endorsed record of rhinos poached in Namibia in 2015 is 90 rhinos, meaning that a large number of poached rhinos were left out of the official CITES statistics for 2015. 

In comparison, “elephant mortalities this year rose to 31 animals, bringing the total since January 2015 to 80.” By adding up the statistics from CITES and official press releases, it can be ascertained that at least 274 elephants have been poached in Namibia since 2012. One must question whether there are any further discrepancies in these statistics.

Statistics aside, poaching is on the increase and it does not appear like the problem will be under control any time soon as criminal syndicates have started to shift their attention from East Africa to the southern African herds.  In Namibia, there is a failure in enforcement with many outstanding poaching incidents, few perpetrators being caught and even less poaching cases going to court.  The number of cases that have been successfully completed and those still on the court roll are not fully disclosed to the Namibian public.

In the rare cases where poachers or traders end up in court, they get pitifully light sentences that serve as no deterrent. Recently, five convicted black rhino poachers were sentenced to a mere six years in prison. Two smugglers caught with pangolin got off with a meager N$300 (US$23) fine each. There is very little deterrence against poaching in Namibia.

Minister Shifeta laments “the fact that many of those arrested have previously been released on bail, and gone back into repeating their crimes”  However, Deputy Prosecutor General Philippus Brink says “that prosecutors do object to bail as far as they can but are also dependent on other role players such as the police to provide them with information that can constitute a legal objection to bail.” In Namibia, there remain serious concerns with failures on all levels from insufficient enforcement, incomplete investigations, missing evidence, overburdened understaffed courts and inadequate penalties. 

Aerial photograph of Migrating Elephants in the Zambezi Region
© Marcia Fargnoli
Unintended Consequences

Namibia asserts that it should be granted special permission to trade in ivory because it claims to have a stable growing population of elephants. Although the IUCN recently denied the ivory trade proposal, Namibia has again proposed the legalized ivory trade to CITES. 

Given the fact that Namibia did not participate in the GEC to subject their elephant data to expert peer review leaves a question about the actual status of Namibia’s elephants.  One can even question the poaching statistics which show signs of discrepancies.  If the population is not stable, is subject to increased poaching or is in large part migratory, should trade even be considered at all?

A large portion of Namibia’s elephants are likely migrating between countries.  Those elephants do not belong to Namibia alone.  This is one reason why international conservation laws such as CITES are made: to protect animals that roam between countries.  No country can independently decide the fate of migratory animals.

This is highlighted in the SADC Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement (1999) which Namibia is a party to.  It states that “Each party shall ensure that activities within its jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the wildlife resources of other states.”  Namibia has been persistent in issuing hunting permits for elephants and making proposals to international authorities to allow for Namibia to trade in ivory, but these decisions could cause damage to elephants that are migratory and are therefore resources of other states. 

Namibia also signed the London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade (2014) which clearly states that all signatories must oppose the trade in wildlife products where they could stimulate poaching, trafficking or demand. The recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research has demonstrated that legal ivory sales only serve to intensify poaching, trafficking and demand.

Experts also agreed at the recent IUCN Congress “that any elephant ivory supply, including legal domestic markets, creates opportunities for the laundering of illegal elephant ivory under the guise of legality.”  This is particularly concerning given the hard-to-control, porous borders between Namibia, Angola, and Zambia.  Even if Namibia’s elephant population is currently stable, it remains nearly impossible to control poaching in this area, let alone the laundering of ivory. 

The Precautionary Principle suggests that, in the absence of certainty, the appropriate course of action is to err on the side of caution and be careful of unintended consequences.

In the name of conservation and species survival, Namibia should err on side of caution in accordance with its own laws and international obligations and should acknowledge that the legal sale of ivory could accelerate the demise of the species.  Elephants are already facing a continental crisis.   Any miscalculation could lead to extinction. Should Namibia not now join hands with its neighbours by committing itself to closing the ivory market in order to save the species?

Elephants in the Hoanib River
© Marcia Fargnoli

Youth unite against wildlife crime


Originally published in the Namibian News - Environment | 2015-11-19
Re-posted from

© Christiaan Bakkes

"Dear Dr. Hage Geingob
About my Wildlife.
I am so glad to get this opportunity to cry out for my Heritage that my forefathers left me to benefit from. In our Namibia I know that God blessed us with wild animals and I am crying for them because people from our country are killing them and selling their horn for money to other countries."

So writes a grade 8 student, from Petrus !Ganeb Secondary School in Uis.

She is echoed by another, 16 year old in grade 8B
"We are the future. Save our Wildlife. Thank you for listening to us."

Another, from the same school has this to say.
"I am very concerned about our wildlife and the problems we are facing today. The rhinos are dying out, followed by other animals and it is really scaring us that our environmental chain is broken and we cannot do anything about it. Only the adults can do something but you are neglecting our calls."

From Okaukuejo Combined School, a Grade 9 student, also has something to say: "We need this poaching of rhinos to stop in our Regions and places. Stop wildlife crime. We are not happy at all. Our country needs to live with peace and no more poaching is allowed."

A class mate, also from Okaukuejo wants "the Government not to let go of all the poachers unpunished. Paying money will not bring back the rhinos and elephants hunted. They must get a severe punishment."
These are but a few comments from hand written letters by Grade 8 and 9 students from schools in areas that are threatened by wildlife crime. All in all seventy-four letters have been written to the Honourable President Dr. Hage Geingob by concerned students. These letters are on their way to the office of the President.

This is a result of a school advocacy campaign initiated by the Land, Environment and Development (LEAD) Project of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC). The aim of the campaign is to focus the attention of the youth on the threat of wildlife crime.

Seven schools were identified in high risk wildlife crime areas in Erongo, Kunene, and Oshikoto Regions. These schools include Okaukuejo Combined School, Petrus !Ganeb Secondary School and Brandberg Primary School at Uis, Kamanjab Combined School, Warmquelle Primary School, Elias Amxab Combined School at Sesfontein and Purros Ondao Mobile School.

During the past three months, talks and PowerPoint presentations were given and videos were shown to students of these schools. All in all 975 pupils and 38 teachers were addressed. In initial return visits, higher grade students of two schools volunteered to write letters to the President in their free time during their exam period.

The message is clear: Rhino and elephant poaching as well as trafficking in wildlife products are connected with organised crime. If you deal in rhino horn and ivory, you are aiding and abetting international crime syndicates, also involved in human trafficking, drug smuggling, gun running and terrorism. The example of Joseph Kony, the leader of the terrorist organization the Lord’s Resistance Army, is used. Ivory from poached elephants is used by Kony to fund the arms and ammunition that terrorise civilians. Children are then abducted to be trained as child soldiers in Northern Uganda, South Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.

An image of Chumlong Lemtongthai, pointing his pistol at the camera is shown. He is a notorious Thai poacher and racketeer that was sentenced to 40 years in prison in RSA. “Will you do business with a man like this?” is the question asked to the students.

Maps presented show the main smuggling routes from Africa to the Far East. Graphs and statistics demonstrate the extent of the wildlife crime crisis. Some 96% of the world's black rhino have been poached according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The ecological importance of wildlife is also discussed. The presentation covers the moral issue around poaching and the need to change the accepted norm. Local initiatives, like the Black Mambas, an all-female anti-poaching unit in South Africa, are also shown.

Actual examples of local poaching incidents are also given. The December 2012 case near Mbakondja in the Palmwag concession, where a black rhino cow was poached and her calf left alive next to her mutilated body is discussed with the students. The seven-month-old calf stood for four days in the relentless heat next to her dead mother, deprived of milk and comfort. The female calf died before she could be saved. This tale has a profound effect on students and teachers alike. It illustrates the cruelty of the poacher.

In many impoverished areas, rhinos and elephants face extinction. Poverty is not an excuse for poaching. In fact, poachers steal from future generations. Poachers make it much more difficult for the next generation to survive by taking away critical parts of the ecosystem and lessening livelihood opportunities in rural areas that disappear along with the wildlife.

The presentations are visual and comprehensive to students. They are the future leaders of this country and must take action. The Constitution of Namibia states that the environment and wildlife must be protected for current and future generations.

Pilot screenings of Linda de Jager's SAN animation film, /Gasa, have also been shown at various schools. It bears a beautiful message to young and old alike and explains the importance of the old values of conservation and people living with wildlife. It is very popular among all students. At Purros, a respected community elder expressed satisfaction that the old stories are still being told.

Principal Shipahu Erastus at Okaukuejo commented on the whole program.

'This is good for the present generation. If they learn now they will improve. They will have an interest and not poach. The youth will have an impact on others around them. In this case, the message will go far.'

The mentor of the school's Eco Club Mrs. Paula Goagases expressed the wish to take it further and organise marches and campaigns within Etosha National Park.

The response to the presentations have been very positive. At Warmquelle, 120 students and 7 teachers crammed into one classroom to attend. Other teachers and students had to be turned away for lack of space. At Sesfontein, 258 students and 9 teachers gathered in the hall.

Concern has been expressed about a recent case where a school principal was arrested for poaching in the North. What example is he to his students?

The principals and teachers of all the schools represented are very supportive of the programme. It is encouraging to see the interest and positive reaction of the youth.

"Some of the students get very upset by what is happening. Many want to know how they can help to make a difference. It gives us hope for the future." a LAC team member commented. Many of the students wrote down the contact details of the LAC in order to report wildlife crime.

The foundation has been laid. The LEAD project team of the LAC plans to return to the seven schools with more discussions about conservation and screenings of wildlife documentaries. When they feel the goals have been achieved, they will expand the project into other areas that are threatened by wildlife crime.

The initiative is sponsored by German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Pupkewitz Foundation and actively supported by Wilderness Safaris Namibia and Taleni Africa.

End of the game


Originally published in the Namibian News - Environment | 2015-03-19
Re-posted from

© Marcia Fargnoli
IT was a time to rejoice. It seemed to be the only logical way forward. The path had been laid out for us. The truth shone as clear as an unmuddied lake. We were bright-eyed and idealistic. Inspired and energetic. A brave new world.

It was the year 1995.

I had just joined Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), a WWF-funded NGO that was charged with the responsibility of empowering local rural communities through conservation. The goal was to establish communal conservancies that would enable the people to take ownership of their wildlife and natural resources.

The year 1995 was also a time of good rain. The best in human memory. Springbok fawns abounded across the veld.

It was with pride that I drove my bakkie from village to village, seeking out the community game guards. I was amazed by the beauty of the landscape and the free-ranging wildlife. I was especially proud of the panda sticker on the bakkie door.

For me too it was a new beginning. I hailed from the Kruger Park where local people were kept away from wildlife with fences and guns. I was born into and benefited from an oppressive system. It was time to make amends. Give something back.

We were going to make impoverished rural communities benefit from their wildlife. At the same time we were going to conserve that same wildlife. I was part of that process.

For the last twenty years I was part of that process. I still am.

I remember the exciting conception period. Befriending the community members by keeping elephants out of their meagre fields. Winning their trust by saving their crops. Training community game guards and doing game counts. 

The communal conservancy legislation was passed through parliament in 1996.

After three years in IRDNC I joined a safari company in the Kunene region. I witnessed game lodges springing up all over communal lands. I saw agreements between conservancies and tour companies. Joint ventures for the benefit of all. Private operators would pay communities for the privilege of tourism on their land. Local community members would be employed and trained and empowered. I saw many young men and women grow into highly professional adults. It was a wonderful period of growth. It felt good.

The conservancy policy went even further. The conservancies were granted hunting rights. The conservancies made agreements with professional hunting enterprises. The conservancy members could also hunt for the pot and own use.

This was after game counts were conducted and quotas were worked out.

The good rains of 1995 turned into a wet cycle that lasted until 2011. It was a time of bounty. Plains game proliferated and black rhino numbers increased. More newborn elephant calves were noted among the small desert-adapted herds. The desert lion made a remarkable comeback. What a pleasure it was to take foreign travellers on a safari through this arid African Eden.

Soon the world took notice. Conservation awards started pouring in. Namibia was hailed as the world leader in community-based conservation.

There was enough for everybody. The money came trickling in. First slowly and then a little faster.

It was never a flood. But it was enough to whet the appetite for more.
Promises of wealth and riches created expectations. The expectations became too big. Then the rot set in.

The first signs of the decimation of wildlife came with the introduction of the shoot and sell policy. I first encountered it on the Giribes plains on the boundary of the Purros and Sesfontein conservancies. In this policy, outside contractors get permission to shoot plains game on a large scale to supply their butcheries elsewhere. This seemed to be a profitable venture for the conservancies.

I saw freezer trucks parked on the plains while gemsbok, springbok and zebra were being slaughtered and loaded. Bakkies were driving in different directions, returning with dead animals to be transported. On my second encounter with these shooting teams, the back registration plates of the freezer trucks were covered with duct tape.

In 2010, I encountered such a shooting party on the border of the Skeleton Coast Park. It was late November and a desert rain shower transformed the gravel plains to a green flush. There was a concentration of gemsbok, including several nursery herds. The cows had already given birth and it was no time or place to hunt gemsbok. The shooting parties of three bakkies were driving off-road and indiscriminately shooting into these herds. I reported this to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and was assured that the practice was perfectly legal. There was no MET official present during the shoot.

Later there were newspaper reports of a large quantity of dead zebras being left out in the sun to rot, after one of these freezer trucks broke down.

The road between Sesfontein and Purros is a beautiful drive. It used to abound with gemsbok and springbok. After shoot and sell was introduced, wildlife visibly diminished.

Elsewhere, signs of this practice also became visible.

Another alarming occurrence was the high mortality rate of elephants in the Purros conservancy. A recent study argues that the Hoarusib – Hoanib river elephant population has declined by 30% in the last 10 years. At least two cows and one bull were shot illegally. Another was wounded, recovered and then disappeared. Another was shot after it killed a tourist at a campsite. One died of complications with a radio collar. Orphaned calves disappeared and three elephants have emigrated upriver. The total resident elephant population at Purros at present numbers six individuals.

Purros has always served as a model of people and elephant co-existing and benefiting each other through tourism. That does not seem to be the case any more.

Black rhino poaching in the communal areas started in December 2012. The last isolated incident before that was two decades ago. The number of poached rhinos varies from source to source, the most conservative number being 18 in the Palmwag and Etendeka concessions and four more in the Uukwaluudhi conservancy to the north-east. I do not speak for poached rhinos outside the communal lands. The current spate of poaching has sparked bitter debate and accusations and counter-accusations. I will not dwell on that.

The facts are that only one arrest and conviction had been made – of a poacher caught at the beginning of the onslaught. Evidence points towards organised crime and intimidation. There is a cloak of silence over events. It seems as if conservancy or community members are harbouring criminals. Critically endangered species that stand as symbols of successful community-based conservation are being slaughtered. Why now? Why after all these successes?

Where have we gone wrong? Where are the flaws in our system? 

When I studied nature conservation in the mid-eighties it was drummed into our heads: “If it pays it stays.”

It seems that even for conservationists, wildlife and wilderness have no place if they cannot be of financial value to people. Never was this doctrine more evident than in community-based conservation in Namibia. It is all about money.
Financial benefits to the community were the focus. National pride, ethics, aesthetics and sound ecological practices shared a sad second place. If any place at all.

Everything must have a price tag

Our relentless quest for financial benefit bred one thing: GREED.
It set the stage for disaster. Enter a higher bidder and all principles go out the window.

The higher bidder has entered. Unscrupulous foreign investors, with a lot of financial backing, have come with a new incentive: wildlife products. Rhino horn, ivory, pangolin, lion bones, meat, hides, organs. Everything now has a higher price. It is “good business”.

Will we stand up to this new threat? Will good people be bought and corrupted? Will our ethics and principles and our connection to the wilderness prevail?

Our clinical and non-emotional approach towards wildlife and wilderness will not be enough to stem the new wave of exploitation. We must look into our hearts again. We must remember that we are part of nature. Not owners and manipulators. This earth will not tolerate our greed forever.

We as Namibians stand to lose our reputation as splendid conservationists. A reputation means nothing until you have lost it.

The other day we travelled for several days around the Brandberg. It is a magnificent area. Pristine arid habitat. We travelled through four communal conservancies. It was an area renowned for its desert-adapted wildlife. The ancient art on its rock faces bears testimony to that. It is also known as the most bio-diverse place in Namibia. The first rains have fallen and the grass was in seed. Our total game count was: Two Cape fox, three springbok and eight giraffe.

It seems we are failing.

* Chris Bakkes has been involved in conservation and ecotourism, mostly in Namibia's north-western areas, for more than two decades. He is an acclaimed author of eight books published in Afrikaans, with a selection of his work translated into English and published under the title 'Bushveld, Desert, and Dogs: a Game Ranger's Life' (Human & Rousseau) in 2012.

Rhino horn trade conference “tells it like it is”

Posted on 11 April, 2014 by Africa Geographic Editorial
Re-posted from

© Nandi van Tonder

The controversial OSCAP conference, entitled ‘Risk Assessment of Rhino Horn Trade’ ended yesterday on a positive note. The participants agreed to work together to ensure that all South Africans were made aware of the risks associated with legalising rhino horn trade.

“No matter what side of the trade debate we’re on, what we all want is for the poaching to stop”, said Allison Thomson, Director of OSCAP. “We’ll have to agree to disagree on the trade issue, but make no mistake, we’re serious about working hard, both domestically and internationally, to put a stop to any proposals to legalise rhino horn trade.”

“We need to learn lessons from the ivory trade debacle” said Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency. “You don’t legalise a high-value product like ivory and put it in the hands of hundreds of millions of people and then wonder why elephant poaching has gone off the charts. The same is true for rhino horn”.

Susie Watts, speaking for Humane Society International, pointed out to delegates that South Africa’s plan to sell its rhino horn at a low price in order to undercut the illegal market would backfire. “The very people who are currently orchestrating the poaching of your rhinos will be the eventual beneficiaries of this plan”, she said, warning that the horn traders would buy the horn cheaply from South Africa and then sell it at an inflated price to consumers.

Peter Knights of WildAid showed delegates a number of PSAs featuring celebrities such as Yao Ming and Jackie Chan. WildAid’s video messages have been seen by hundreds of millions of Chinese people and have resulted in a steep decline in the shark fin trade. “We’re now working to do the same for rhinos and elephants”, said Knights. WildAid’s new PSA on rhinos is now being shown widely in Vietnam.

Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation said “”We must end speculation about a future legal trade in rhino horn. The South African government should take all such thoughts off the table so that we can focus on working together towards the long-term conservation of rhinos”.

Alex Kennaugh of the Natural Resources Defense Council said “South Africa wants to get into the rhino horn racket. Not only will they have to compete against global organised crime syndicates, but a legal trade will also make the cost of doing business cheaper for the criminals, make rangers’ jobs harder, make law enforcement harder, and it’s not going to make a dent in demand. In fact, a legal trade might even stimulate demand which just means more dead rhinos”.

Dex Kotze, MC of the conference, said “The consumer problem we are facing is astronomical. By 2020, 840 million Chinese people will be urbanised, with the “affluent” stratum of the middle class numbering 280 million within ten years. In addition, there will be 15 000 high net worth individuals in China alone. Even by the most conservative estimates, legal rhino horn trade could not come close to satisfying the level of demand that could result”.

Duong Viet Hong, representing the Wildlife Conservation Society in Vietnam, reported that The Vietnam Government had shown strong commitment to fight rhino crime in the last 12 months, but that there were not sufficient controls in place in Vietnam to deal with legal rhino horn trade. She also warned of the dangers of sending mixed messages. “Vietnamese consumers, particularly the youth, are starting to get the message about rhinos. Now is not the time to confuse them by selling rhino horn on the legal market”.

International rhino conference gears up for a tough debate

Posted on 4 April, 2014 by Africa Geographic Editorial in Events
Re-posted from