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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Youth unite against wildlife crime

CHRISTIAAN BAKKES and MARCIA FARGNOLI

Originally published in the Namibian News - Environment | 2015-11-19
Re-posted from http://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?page=archive-read&id=144459


© 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.

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