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Rhino to Elephant Poaching Prompts Namibia to Deploy Army Unit

July 4 (Bloomberg) -- Namibia has deployed soldiers to combat the threat posed by poachers to elephants and the world’s largest population of black rhino in national parks that stretch along the country’s borders with Angola and Botswana.

Poachers have killed 10 elephants and 10 black rhinos this year in parks in Kavango, Zambezi and Kunene, Environment and Tourism Minister Uahekua Herunga said in a telephone interview from the capital Windhoek today. The southern African nation has as many as 25,000 elephants, said Herunga, who declined to disclose rhino numbers for security reasons.

“We have created a permanent unit made up of the army and all security services solely dedicated to anti-poaching,” Herunga said. “The unit will be in place forever, or until poaching has been drastically reduced.”

The unit will patrol Namibia’s porous northern and eastern borders, said Herunga, who wants closer cooperation with Angola and Botswana to tackle global poaching syndicates that have infiltrated the region. About 8 percent of the continent’s estimated 470,000 elephants are poached every year, according to African Wildlife Foundation. Elephant ivory can be sold for as much as $1,000 a kilogram in Hong Kong.

Between 1970 and 1992, about 96 percent of black rhino in Africa was lost to poachers with a global population of 4,800 remaining, according to the WWF. Black rhinos are native to Africa as are bigger white rhinos.

Namibia has a population of 1,750 black rhinos and 469 white rhinos, according to Savetherhino.org.

Local Trackers

The syndicates “entice locals familiar with the territory to track down elephants and rhino in remote areas,” Herunga said. “We know that there is an increase in demand in Asia and the price is very high.”

Neighboring South Africa reported the first case of elephant poaching in the Kruger National Park in more than 10 years in May. About 300 white rhinos were poached in South Africa this year compared with a record 1,004 for all of 2013. Most of the animals were killed in the eastern Kruger National Park, where poachers slip across the 350-kilometer (217-mile) border with Mozambique.

Rhino horns are smuggled to east Asia where they can fetch as much as $95,000 per kilogram and are believed to cure cancer and improve a person’s libido.

To contact the reporter on this story: Felix Njini in Windhoek at fnjini@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net Dylan Griffiths

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