Private sector takes up arms to save the rhino
The private conservation group COVER (Conserving our Valuable Rhino and Elephant) has hosted a meeting with French and South African military experts who are in the country to train volunteers to patrol private land.
A high-level covert meeting on rhino poaching was held yesterday morning, apparently in the boardroom of Paragon Holdings in the capital.
The invitation, sent by Jofie Lamprecht of Jofie Lamprecht Safaris, said: “Our friends from Security Solutions Africa are going to update us on their findings regarding who is involved in Namibia. This is not to be missed and is highly sensitive.”
At the meeting, the anti-poaching training unit of French outfit Wildlife Angel was introduced. Training of Namibian volunteers is scheduled to begin in two days, on July 25.
The invitation said no cellphones or other electronic devices would be allowed at the meeting. “Some of the information is highly sensitive.”
The meeting was to be held at Paragon Holdings because Lazarus Jacobs, shareholder of the company, has been appointed as COVER spokesperson.
But there appears to be a split in the groups that have amalgamated under COVER, founded by Jofie Lamprecht. Namibian Sun has reliably learned that a matter was made pending at the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) by Lamprecht for alleged misuse of funds raised for rhino protection by the Next Generation Conservation Trust founded by Henri Slabbert. According to information received, around half of the money raised at the so-called Black Tie event where a wine auction was held, was allegedly spent on hiring premises for the Wine Extravaganza hosted by Slabbert’s brother, Mynard Slabbert. That event was held just after the wine auction.
Henri Slabbert told Namibian Sun that N$495 100 had been raised by the wine auction but the Trust received only N$241 449.
Slabbert said they have had several meetings with the ACC and are assisting the ACC to get to the bottom of the matter.
“The Trust’s books are clean,” said Slabbert. “The Trust was not involved and the people that have worked hard for conservation are the victims here.”
In recent weeks, the private elephant and rhino protection group COVER advertised via its Facebook page for volunteers to sign up for military training to be deployed as anti-poaching units on private farms.
Sources close to the group told Namibian Sun that these guard units would be deployed on private land only. There has been criticism that only white rhinos will be protected, but private ownership of black rhino is against the law so they are not found on farms.
The same sources indicated that a security group from South Africa, Security Solutions Africa (SSA), is also in the country to see where they can assist and train these anti-poaching units. There are rumours that this group is linked to former South African-trained operatives who were deployed in places such as Afghanistan, but this could not be confirmed.
Retired security experts who prefer to remain anonymous have expressed concern about COVER’s activities. They are of the opinion that deployments of militarised groups which have undergone short bursts of training, even though intense, could lead to an uncontrolled situation. Further to this, Namibian law will apply if there is a clash with poachers.
So far, the group has not met directly with the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, but it is believed there have been efforts to schedule a meeting with him.
The minister was approached for his opinion on private armed groups operating on private land to protect the country’s rhinos. He said there have been many requests from private companies that want to get involved in anti-poaching efforts.
He said the ministry has been careful because there are many individuals who only want to get involved to cash in on these activities.
Shifeta said the ministry cannot stop farmers from deploying private anti-poaching units on their land, but stressed that the ministry will not have the power to screen these people.
“There are some farmers that feel threatened and it is their private property, therefore they can do so provided it is according to the law.”
Shifeta warned that volunteers should be properly screened because poachers would want to join these initiatives.
“We have confidence in our security forces and we have the community on our side, that is why we have managed to combat poaching.”
WINDHOEK ELLANIE SMIT & YANNA SMITH