Ellanie Smit, The Namibian Sun
WINDHOEK: Police yesterday confirmed they have charged journalist John Grobler and Nrupesh Soni, the founder and owner of Namibia Travel and Tourism Forum, for trespassing. The pair on Saturday afternoon flew a drone over a farm in Gobabis, owned by GoHunt Namibia Safaris. This is deemed illegal if no permission was obtained from the owner of the property. The Elizabeth Margaret Steyn (EMS) Foundation, a global wildlife animal rights group, has condemned Namibia over the treatment of the two men.
Grobler was allegedly investigating a controversial elephant auction, while Soni said he was assisting with flying the drone. They were filming footage at the farm where 23 wild, captured elephants with two newborn calves are allegedly being kept. Grobler said this shows that the cows were pregnant when captured.
Legal ImplicationsThe auction and sale of elephants in Namibia has been highly criticised, with the environment ministry being accused of not being transparent about the matter. News of the auctioning of 170 elephants broke in December 2020 and caused an uproar. The ministry sold 57 of the elephants last year for N$5.9 million, of which 42 will be exported.
The ministry had been adamant that it would not disclose any information about the bidders or the countries the elephants are being exported to out of fear of retaliation. Questioned about the transparency of the process, ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said they can only share more once the entire process has been completed, otherwise there may be legal implications.
Grobler and Soni face charges of trespassing and hunting of specially protected game without a permit. “It is further alleged that the suspects used the drone to wilfully disturb the specially protected game without a permit or written authority issued by the environment ministry,” the police said.
After the matter was reported to the police and the ministry, they were intercepted in Gobabis, the report read. Police confiscated a DJI Phantom drone equipped with a SG card that contained visuals of the elephants on the farm. Investigations into the matter continue.
He Said, She Said.
Grobler, however, said for the trespassing charge to be valid, they would have had to be arrested on the farm and not in Gobabis, which is about 120km away. He added that he formally requested access to the elephants in person from the owner last Monday and was told that he had to ask the ministry. The ministry’s office based in Gobabis however insisted that the owner had to give permission.
The EMS Foundation said it is concerned about the lack of transparency by the Namibian government on the said auction and does not condone government’s heavy-handed approach towards Grobler and Soni.
“The capture of free roaming wild elephants is a matter of national interest, general public concern and importance. This is a subject of legitimate global news interest,” it said.