Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Lisa Johnson at the Inauguration of Ministry of Environment and Tourism Dog Unit

Ambassador Lisa Johnson is joined by the @Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, and his staff along with the Namibian Special Forces and the recently qualified anti-poaching canine handlers.

Waterberg Anti-Poaching Training Center

Lieutenant Corporal Johannes Kavila with one of the anti-poaching canines.

Thanks to the leadership of the Honorable Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta, Namibia continues to be a model for conservation in the region. Namibia has had great success in combating poaching in recent years, including through the highly successful community-based conservation program, the rhino custodian program, and other collaborative efforts.

Poaching became a growing problem in Namibia just a few years ago, with the number of poached rhinos peaking at 95 in 2015. Since that time, due to outstanding efforts by both the Ministry and communities, the number of rhinos poached has dropped significantly. As of August, this year’s official count records just 35 incidents.

Despite this progress, however, Namibia is not “poacher free.” In addition, we are all aware of the alarming recent news from Botswana concerning large numbers of elephants killed. To address this persistent threat, and to focus on further reducing the number of poaching incidents, the Ministry is constantly introducing innovative approaches to combating this crime. The U.S. government is pleased to support these efforts.

Among these innovative approaches is specially trained anti-poaching dogs. Dogs already have been used successfully to detect illegal wildlife products and wildlife trafficking in many places, including Asia, Europe, and elsewhere in Africa. Earlier this year, I had a chance to meet the dog posted in Etosha and observe first-hand his skill at detecting bullet casings and rhino horn.

Today, I am happy to be here for the launch of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s new anti-poaching dog unit. I am especially pleased that the U.S. Government has been able to collaborate with the Ministry to launch this program – through funding the purchase and training of the dogs, as well as supplies and equipment for the dogs and dog handlers.

Today’s event celebrates the beginning of what we hope will be a very successful anti-poaching dog program. The four dogs here today are both detection and tracker dogs, and they will be deployed in a variety of settings. They have just completed several weeks of training with their handlers, and I have heard great things about their capabilities.

This program complements a number of other U.S. Government funded programs to combat wildlife crime – including community-based work to ensure the value of wildlife for everyone; training courses for those handling wildlife crimes; and, equipment for anti-poaching efforts. Currently, the U.S. Government is funding ongoing wildlife projects in Namibia valued at more than U$20M.

Our support aims to balance both the “enforcement” and the “human” sides of conservation efforts. We want to stamp out the illegal poaching and trafficking that harm Namibia’s economy and afford opportunity for other criminal activity. At the same time, we want to ensure that the rights and needs of Namibians who live in proximity to wildlife are protected. This balance will allow Namibia’s unique model of conservation to continue to set an example for the rest of the world.

The U.S. Government remains firmly committed to supporting the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in its conservation and anti-poaching efforts. I look forward to hearing about the accomplishments of the new dog unit in the upcoming months, and continuing to work with the Ministry towards eliminating poaching and wildlife trafficking in Namibia.

Thank you.