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Khama punches holes in anti-poaching policy

Publishing Date : 10 September, 2018

Author : TEBOGO KGALEMANG

Former President Lt. Ian Khama who is an Ambassador of Tourism and a Distinguished Fellow of Conservation International says the disarming of Department of Wildlife and National Parks in May this year, led to a ‘Bulela Ditswe’ of elephants resulting in 87 allegedly being killed in one incident recently.


Government had taken a decision to withdraw military weapons and equipment from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in May this year. This was only a month after Khama handed over a baton to his successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Speaking in an interview with WeekendPost on Thursday, Khama said it was unfortunate that the anti-poaching units were disarmed.


“I do not really know the reason why the wildlife officials were disarmed. But it was unfortunate. It is possible that the decision could be partly responsible for the increase in poaching,” said Khama. The former President said that when it was communicated that the anti-poaching units have been disarmed, it gave poachers an impression that everyone who is involved in anti-poaching was being disarmed.


“And then people thought, ehe, ‘Bulela Ditswe’ mo Botswana, (there is poaching spree in Botswana) we can go and try our luck. We saw an increase in poaching of wild animals including rhinos after that announcement was made.” The anti-poaching units are made of Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Botswana Police Services and Wildlife and National Parks officials, with the biggest number coming from BDF.


THE KHAMAS ARE NOT DE-CAMPAIGNING BOTSWANA TOURISM


Former President Khama dismissed allegations that his family especially his young brother, Tshekedi Khama who happens to be the Minister of Environment, National Resources Conservation and Tourism, could be de-campaigning Botswana tourism because of the recent fallout with the Masisi administration.


He said, “There is no de-campaigning by me or any member of my family.  I have worked for this country for many years. I have had the privilege of working for it at the highest level, so they would be nothing I would want to do to undo the work I have tried to do to promote this country.” “The tourism Ambassador role is to campaign for Botswana, and that’s what I am doing. Even in my role as a Conservation International Distinguished Fellow we are concerned about the spike in elephant poaching in Botswana,” he said.


Khama said a low number of poaching was recorded during his administration.  According to the former President, a total of 81 elephants were poached in 12 months last year, with one rhino in 10 years as compared to 87 elephants and five rhinos in one incident according to his information.


Trying to make sense of the alleged poaching, Khama said the other possible reason could be that there is just wholesale poaching on the other side of borders and elephants are literally running out to other countries. Further to that, Khama said poachers’ guns are now probably facing Botswana. He warned that if not careful, this can certainly affect the population of elephants which will then affect the tourism industry as a whole.


OUR GOOD REPUTATION IS BEING RUINED


The Tourism Ambassador decried that the recent rise in poaching cases will certainly damage the good reputation of Botswana tourism in terms of the country’s management of poaching, “Because we always had a very good reputation internationally because of how we have been able to protect these resources, wildlife in general and our environment.”


“We have a good reputation as Botswana. We stand out in the continent.  And this will cause us harm if we are seen to be relaxing in any way or because we are not doing well as we have been up to now. We have to revisit the methods we are using to counter poaching,” he said.


ELEPHANTS WITHOUT BORDERS REPORT EXAMINED BY MINISTRY

The former president however, said the numbers that were reported by Dr Mike Chase of Elephants without Borders might change. He said the government has sent its delegation to go meet with him and examine his numbers.   “A team has been sent by the ministry to go meet the gentleman who reported the figure to establish where these elephants are and the numbers and cause of death. Sometimes when you fly you just see the carcasses, and it could be natural death or poaching. 
 

Of course he is a very reputable gentleman, but I do not know whether he examined all the 87 carcasses to establish the cause of death,” Khama noted. “So, these carcasses, we also need to establish if some of them are from last year or these are recent. But I think the department what they know so far is that this year so far we have lost 63 elephants to poachers.”

HIS EXPERIENCE IN COMBATING POACHING


“From my experience, there is always a pattern, a trend, and areas poachers tend to target. Once we get familiar with those, then we can know how to counter with old strategies. When they cross the border, they kill animals like hippo on the other side, cut its feet at the bottom and make a pad that the elephants walk on, cut it and fashion it into a shoe and walk on that. So when you are patrolling you don’t see a human foot print, you just see what looks like an elephant foot print.

But as an experienced anti-poaching official you would know that an elephant is so heavy, so the print would be deeper than if it’s a human being. A professional experienced tracker would see it’s not the track of an elephant. They also do things like walking backwards, so when you see prints you would think they have gone another way. “


WHERE DO TOURISTS PAY PACKAGE BILLS?


Asked where the tourists pay their package bills, the Tourism Ambassador hesitated in answering the question refereeing this publication to BTO before he could say, “Some may be paying here, but some may be paying through agency.” This publication can however reliably confirm that payments are made overseas before tourists come here. The accommodations accounts are not in Botswana, but in foreign countries.


Tshekedi declined to comment on the issue saying there has been an instruction that a press conference will be held sometime next week to address all the issues around the poaching saga. I know Chase, but I haven’t seen him for a long time, the whole of this year. But I know about the work that he does.

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