Countering poaching and trafficking of illegal wildlife products to support biodiversity protection through Operation Blue Rhino

©Namibian Partnerships against Environmental Crime
Published: 17 January 2023
Last edited: 17 January 2023
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Summary

Operation Blue Rhino was initiated in 2018 to counter the surge in high-value wildlife crime in Namibia. The formal cooperation between government ministries is enabled through external funding support. Blue Rhino is facilitated through active collaboration amongst numerous partner organisations. Effective conservation systems that enable healthy wildlife populations form the foundation of biodiversity protection in Namibia. Anti-poaching initiatives guard against criminal impacts on vulnerable wildlife. Law enforcement and prosecution thwart criminal activities to safeguard national objectives. Operation Blue Rhino works within this framework to eradicate commercial poaching and trafficking of illegal wildlife products, thus supporting the protection of Namibia’s biodiversity. The operation is run by a dedicated task force, the Blue Rhino Task Team, made up of police investigators and conservation personnel. Operation Blue Rhino builds on the foundations and ongoing efforts of regional police and conservation units.

Classifications

Region
East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Multi-national
National
Ecosystem
Desert ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Hot desert
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Theme
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Legal & policy frameworks
Outreach & communications
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Species management
Challenges
Desertification
Drought
Erratic rainfall
Extreme heat
Floods
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Vector and water borne diseases
Wildfires
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Erosion
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Poaching
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Inefficient management of financial resources
Infrastructure development
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Physical resource extraction
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of food security
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Lack of technical capacity
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with a company
Direct engagement with associations

Location

Namibia | Implementation is countrywide and includes active collaboration with government agencies and NGOs in neighbouring countries, as well as in some end-market countries.

Challenges

During the past decade Namibia faced escalating wildlife crime, particularly targeting high-value species such as elephant, black and white rhinos, and pangolin. The years 2015/16 saw peaks in elephant and rhino poaching. Namibia’s sound conservation systems and healthy wildlife populations limited the impacts, yet poaching threatened vulnerable rhino populations distributed across state, community and private conservation areas. Some small, isolated rhino populations were completely wiped out. This affected the tourism and conservation-hunting industries, and rural livelihoods. The cost of protecting rhinos against poachers threatened to make private reserves economically unviable. The Namibian government worked with NGOs, the private sector and local communities to reverse this trend. National security forces have been deployed to national parks in an anti-poaching capacity since 2016. Since 2018, wildlife-crime law enforcement has been significantly transformed through the work of Operation Blue Rhino.

Beneficiaries

  • Biodiversity of Namibia
  • Elephant, rhino & pangolin populations
  • People of Namibia
  • Government of Namibia
  • Tourism industry
  • Conservation-hunting industry
  • State, community and private protected areas
  • Southern African anti-trafficking initiatives

How do the building blocks interact?

The Namibian government is mandated with the protection of the country’s biodiversity, the enforcement of its laws, the defence of the state and its resources against threats, and numerous other activities related to wildlife protection and law enforcement. To be effective in the long term, efforts to counter wildlife crime must work directly through mandated government agencies. Here, interagency cooperation forms the vital foundation for successful interventions. Direct, fast and flexible external funding can bridge funding gaps and remove bureaucratic obstacles within government to unlock the full potential of staff to effectively carry out their mandated conservation and law-enforcement activities. The use of all available technologies and tools provides an operational edge, while strategic planning and innovative action ensure that efforts are focussed and coordinated, and that activities can adapt to change as required.

Criminals have an advantage in that they can operate beyond all boundaries without rules or regulations, strike quickly when it suits them, and receive direct, often significant rewards. Through the interaction of the described building blocks, conservation and law-enforcement interventions can gain the upper hand over criminals.

Impacts

During the first three years of Operation Blue Rhino wildlife-crime law enforcement in Namibia shifted from reactive to proactive action. Surveillance, analytics and other technological capabilities and related information networks were vastly improved. Early detection of criminal activity has enabled pre-emptive arrests and rapid responses to incidents. Systematic investigations continue to produce results in old cases, with perpetrators still being arrested years after incidents. The swift arrest of insiders, including members of Namibia’s security forces who have become involved in wildlife crime, has made it clear that nobody is above the law. Improved case management, court preparation and court monitoring have resulted in increased conviction rates and more appropriate penalties. These interventions have transformed wildlife-crime law enforcement in Namibia. Results include:

  • law enforcement pro-active & evidence-led
  • data from relevant agencies consolidated, managed & analysed via integrated wildlife-crime database
  • effective information networks created
  • arrests & seizures significantly increased
  • pre-emptive arrests saving numerous rhinos
  • high-level dealers & kingpins arrested
  • active collaboration with Environmental Crimes Unit, Office of the Prosecutor General, significantly strengthening prosecution
  • poaching of elephant & rhinos significantly reduced
  • ongoing capacity building of personnel

Story

©Namibian Partnerships against Environmental Crime

Pre-emptive arrests of would-be rhino poachers are amongst the most personally satisfying and inspiring of all Blue Rhino interventions. They present one of the best law-enforcement outcomes related to rhino poaching and trafficking that one can hope for. In recent years, pre-emptive law enforcement has been a game-changer in countering rhino crimes and facilitating the protection of Namibia’s rhino populations. Between the beginning of 2018 and the end of 2021, 42 pre-emptive cases related to rhinos have led to the arrest of 161 suspects. These are impressive law-enforcement results. They are also extremely important conservation outcomes.

Pre-emptive arrests apprehend perpetrators while they are planning or attempting to carry out a crime, but have not yet been able to kill an animal. The arrests are saving numerous rhinos, yet are still apprehending and convicting perpetrators – a significant deterrent to further poaching. The knock-on effect of the disruption of entire trafficking syndicates means that a considerable number rhinos are saved through each pre-emptive arrest. The result is a combination of law-enforcement successes and positive conservation outcomes. 

At the beginning of the poaching surge in Namibia, law enforcement was mostly carried out in reaction to the discovery of dead animals, or the opportunistic seizure of wildlife products. Through proactive investigations, interagency cooperation, fast and flexible funding, use of the latest surveillance and analytical technology, and community information and support, poachers are now regularly being arrested and charged with conspiracy to poach before they manage to kill a rhino. Arresting perpetrators while at the same time keeping rhinos safe is a particularly satisfying personal achievement for law enforcement and conservation personnel. 

Under Namibian legislation, the laws and penalties regarding the conspiracy to commit an offence (in this case rhino poaching) are applied in the same manner as if the perpetrator had committed the actual offence. Suspects in pre-emptive arrests are charged with conspiracy to poach rhino (also known as intent to poach). Charges in pre-emptive arrest cases are based on a variety of incriminating evidence, which may include unlawful entry into a game park, possession of illegal firearms, carrying of firearms in a game park etc. Importantly, the sentences handed down by the courts must recognise the severity of the offences as being on par with actual poaching.

Contributed by

Info_42526's picture

Helge Denker Blue Rhino Task Team