‘Poachers won’t win’
The police are determined to get to the bottom of the rhino poaching problem regardless of the status of the people involved, Commissioner Ndahangwapo Kashihakumwa, who is leading an anti-poaching operation in the Etosha National Park and surrounding areas in Omusati and Kunene, has warned.
On Wednesday, a team of investigating officers was sent from pillar to post by three suspected poachers who had pledged to give their full cooperation to the police.
The three suspects were taken from the police cells to the crime scene at Iitapa village after they had promised to show the police where they had buried a rhino carcass about seven years ago.
It is alleged that the suspects used horses to hunt a rhino that used to drink water at a nearby pond. They killed the rhino but not before it attacked and seriously wounded one of the horses belonging to the village headman. The rider survived but the horse later died.
The suspects dehorned the rhino and then buried the carcass.
It is alleged that the same group later hunted another rhino in the area, this time using a vehicle.
One of the suspects pointed out several sites where he claimed the carcass was buried, but every time the officers’ digging yielded nothing.
The suspect eventually admitted having deceived the officers on purpose.
The other two suspects took the police to another area where they pointed out the place where they had killed the rhino, but said they could no longer remember exactly where they buried the carcass.
Some police officers expressed the view that the suspects might have honestly forgotten where they buried the rhino, but Commissioner Kashihakumwa, who is commanding the operation, was not impressed.
“I do not think they have really forgotten where they buried the carcass. We are used to those tricks. They are merely buying time and we will give them enough time and they will eventually tell the truth when it dawns on them that we are not letting them off the hook,” he said.
The three suspects are part of a larger group of 36 suspected poachers who were arrested since the anti-poaching operation started on June 1.
Of this number, 22 were charged and have already appeared in the Magistrate’s Court at Okahao, while 14 were released due to insufficient evidence.
“That does not mean that they are off the hook, but merely that we do not yet have enough evidence,” Kashihakumwa said.
He said his team of investigators is accumulating success after success and expressed the hope that rhino poaching, particularly in the Etosha National Park, would become something of the past because of the uncompromising police operation that would leave no stone unturned.
“We are determined to get to the bottom of this crime, regardless of the status of the people involved,” he said.
The police have so far identified five poaching syndicates – four operating from Omusati while the fifth was based in Kunene.
Kashihakumwa expressed his disappointment with Iitapa villagers’ lack of cooperation with the police.
“If even the village headman refuses to cooperate, just imagine those under him,” he said.
It is said the village headman was also arrested, and only after a night behind bars did he admit that his horse was killed in a poaching expedition, but said it was taken without his permission.
He is one of the 14 suspects who were released due to lack of evidence.
Kashihakumwa, who is the Oshana regional police commander, has in the meantime explained why he was heading an operation outside his region.
“It was decided that the regional commanders of the five regions bordering Etosha – Otjozondjupa, Oshikoto, Oshana, Omusati and Kunene – command the anti-poaching operation on a rotational basis. I was given the first chance to command the operation for three months, June 1 to August 31,” he said.
OSHAKATI PLACIDO HILUKILWA