THE presence of Chinese people in southern Angola for various economic reasons has reportedly given rise to trade in crocodile meat and it is decimating the small population in the Kunene River Valley.
Various farming communities on the banks of the river that forms the border between Namibia and Angola, have been blamed for the rise in crocodile poaching.
The plight of the small population of the reptiles was taken up by Owen Kataparo, a goat farmer and a tour guide who walked all the way from the Kunene River Valley to Windhoek where he hopes to get an audience with Pohamba Shifeta, the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism to discuss possible interventions.
Kataparo not only braved the harsh winter weather and predatory animals to complete his 960 kilometre journey on foot, he also had to wait almost two month for the countrywide COVID-19 lockdown to be lifted before he could finally finish it.
In the meantime, the killing of crocodiles in the Kunene River continues unabated.
People living along the banks of the river have reported that the reptiles are being poisoned or caught with large fishing hooks attached to chains to get to their meat and skins.
Farming communities along the river are also accused of shooting the animals.
The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism (MEFT) views the situation as human wildlife conflict because there have been instances where crocodiles took a goat or cattle from the river banks.
Colgar Sikopo, the Deputy Executive Director for the Department of Natural Resources Management, said the MEFT has a mandate to care and conserve all species, crocodiles included.
“We are finalising a Human Crocodile Conflict Management Plan which should be launched by the Minister soon,” he said.
Sikopo also indicated that most of the killing of crocodiles is done by Angolan stock farmers.
However, a group of concerned Kunene River Valley residents are of the opinion that the killing of the crocodiles are not as a result of human wildlife conflict.
“I have people from across the river approaching me daily to trade with crocodile skins, dried claws, and skulls. This indicates that a market for such items have suddenly been created where it never existed before,” one of the river bank residents, Cornelius Kemp, said.
Kemp, who can speak Portuguese fluently, said that while discussing possible transactions, the traders told him that the main reason for them killing the crocodiles is because they sell the meat to Chinese nationals who have moved into their area over the past two years.
The skins, dried claws, and skulls are just by products that they sell for extra money.
“In the area we I live, one can hear poachers shooting crocodiles at night. Sometime we get to places where the poachers have used a baby baboon or a goat as bait to lure the crocodiles out of the river and then catching them with fish hooks and then shooting them,” he said.
According to Kemp, he and a few other river bank residents have started an anti-poaching group to share information in an attempt to conserve the crocodiles.
“The little research we have already done shows that the crocodile population in the stretch of the river between Ruacana and the Epupa Falls will be wiped out in short order. The problem along the Kunene River is that the crocodiles are not reproducing because of the poaching. It seems that crocodiles need to reach a certain length before they become sexually mature and start mating,” Kemp said.
He said that crocodiles in other rivers reach sexual maturity much faster because they grow quicker due to the abundance of food. In the Kunene River food is not that abundant and it takes the crocodiles about ten years longer to reach a certain length and sexual maturity.
“We are not seeing any mature crocodiles along this stretch of the river bank any more. The largest crocodile recently observed was about 90 centimetres long, and still needs to grow about two metres before it can start reproducing,” he said.
According to Kemp, the type of poison used by the poachers is still unknown, but a white substance resembling toothpaste was collected from a baboon used as bait and was sent to the MEFT for analyses.
The MEFT spokesperson, Romeo Muyunda confirmed that the Angolan environmental authority was notified of the indiscriminate killing and that the two countries are engaged in formulating a plan of action.
Muyunda said it is a cross border problem that needs a cross border solution.