Major embarrassment for Chinese government as smugglers are caught red-handed
Well, now it is out in the open. What we have all suspected for a long time and what conservationists have been trying to tell us, has been proven correct this week. The main conduit for smuggling ivory and rhino horn out of a large part of southern Africa consists of a chain of Chinese nationals. This chain starts in the villages in the rural areas where the Chinese traders have established networks of trusted suppliers, and from where they dispatch couriers with the valuable cargoes to take it out through Hosea Kutako International Airport which is generally regarded as an easy exit point to circumvent security. How wrong they were.
Early this week we were all shocked by the news that a small group of travellers en route to China, had been caught with their pants on their ankles, revealing the horny packages they had concealed, so to speak. This set the conservation community ablaze. If there is one thing we care about almost as much as we care about our children, it is our wildlife, and this is a universal Namibian trait.
It is not hard to understand our extremely sentimental disposition when it comes to protecting those very endangered animals which Orientals are hell-bent on exterminating for good from our planet. With us, nature conservation is an emotional issue, and we despise any person that steals our wildlife, or kills them for whatever profit can be made from selling their parts.
A very large part of our citizens in extensive areas of the country, live in part from the proceeds generated through tourism. And tourists flock to the rural districts, the conservation areas, and the local community conservancies to see lots of game and bush, to see the huge diversity of species, experience the vast open spaces, and with luck, observe some very rare animals like the Black Rhino.
It was more than five years ago that a friend who works in conservation told me all Chinese shops in their area are monitored, discretely but regularly for indications that the owners are soliciting community members to supply them with ivory and rhino horn. Although we do not generally regard spotted cats as high up on the list of smuggled contraband, it was revealing to learn that a leopard skin was also discovered in the smugglers’ luggage, confiscated at the international airport.
Similar suspicions were expressed by several other friends who either live in regions of abundant wildlife or who have dealings with traders from outside our borders. It was from them that I learned, the contraband rhino horn is suspected to have come from Zambia.
A while back I was sent a very revealing article, written and published by a Chinese journalist who came to Namibia specifically to investigate the involvement of Namibian-based Chinese traders in buying and smuggling ivory and rhino horn. This article fingers and names a specific Chinese individual operating in Katima, but so far I am unaware of any action taken by the local embassy, to either deport their national, or to assist the Namibian Police to arrest him. But his identity is well known, I was made to understand.
The problem with smuggling is that it deals in contraband. In other words, those involved know that it is illegal and criminal so they do not advertise their presence or their activities. Some of my sources also suspect there may be an official link in the form of corrupt officials working for the environment ministry, but this is almost impossible to prove, unless the deal is discovered at point of sale.
It is also interesting to learn that the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, have made enquiries in Windhoek to find our more about conservation legislation, and penalties for perpetrators. This is even more amazing if one considers that it is known worldwide, smuggling ivory and rhino horn is illegal. As if, for some obscure reason, the Chinese may believe one can just cart around rhino horn in Namibia without any consequences. This says a lot about the local Chinese people’s regard for our laws and for that which we hold dear.
I was also told that another Chinese, not related to the smugglers at the airport, was trying to buy rhino horn in Opuwo. He was seemingly apprehended by the Namibian Police but I could not verify this.
The question that haunts me is this. If fourteen rhino horns were smuggled, and I know of only one reported case of poaching last year in the Omaruru district, where did the other 13 horns come from?
Somehow, poaching must have taken place undetected, or worse, unreported, for whatever reason, or perhaps these animals were killed in Zambia and Angola. I do not know.
I hope the smugglers’ grandchildren will still have to come visit them in twenty years from now in the lavish local accommodation provided by the state.