By JANA-MARI SMITH
POACHED … Senior game ranger Raphael Kwenani displays the four elephant tusks and weapons seized by authorities in the Caprivi Region on Saturday. Photo: Contributed
FOUR men were arrested in the Caprivi Region on Saturday in possession of four pairs of elephant tusks. Authorities suspect the men illegally hunted four elephants close to or inside the Chobe National Park in Botswana before smuggling their booty across the border into Namibia.
One of the four men is a Namibian citizen, while the other three are from Angola. A fifth member of the poaching gang, a Zambian national, is still on the run.
The men were arrested in the Caprivi after a joint operation between Namibian and Botswana anti-poaching authorities was launched last week. A public tip-off to the wildlife authorities first stated that the men were hunting buffalo and hippo in the area.
Colgar Sikopo, Deputy Director of Wildlife Management in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, said an investigation started immediately after they received the alert from the Caprivi Bamunu conservancy that people from the area were involved in illegal hunting.
Authorities followed the trail of the suspects, which led across the border into Botswana. Although they were hot on the heels of the suspects, the killing of four elephants “just alongside the Chobe National Park” could not be stopped. Sikopo said the arrests took place on Saturday and they suspect the illegal hunt took place on Friday.
Anti-poaching authorities confiscated an AK47 assault rifle, a .308 rifle and a shotgun from the poachers.
The suspects will appear in the Katima Mulilo Magistrate’s Court tomorrow.
The men face a charge of illegal possession of elephant tusks, unlawful possession of rifles and unlawful possession of ammunition.
Sikopo said it is difficult to determine what the estimated value of the tusks are.
He said depending on the “quality of the elephant”, a trophy hunter will pay between N$100 000 to N$150 000 per elephant.
Sikopo said yesterday that poaching in Namibia is decreasing with the help of conservancies.
“But there are still isolated incidents of illegal hunting of elephants, especially in the Caprivi”.
He said the last cases of illegal elephant hunting were recorded in 2010, when four elephants were killed during an illegal hunt.
International reports however suggest that there is a rise in elephant poaching again, despite intense conservation efforts to stop the traffic in tusks to Asia.