Khama punches holes in anti-poaching policy
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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ENVIRONMENT ISSUES: Masisi asks Virginia for help
President Mokgweetsi Masisi says the issue of sustainable natural resources management has always been an important part of Botswana’s national development agenda.
Masisi was speaking this week on the occasion of a public lecture at Virginia Polytechnic, under theme, “Merging Conservation, Democracy and Sustainable Development in Botswana.”
Botswana, according to Masisi, holds the view that the environment is fragile and as such, must be managed and given the utmost protection to enable the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It is necessary that we engage one another in the interchange of ideas, perspectives, visualizations of social futures, and considerations of possible strategies and courses of action for sustainable development,” said Masisi.
On the other hand, dialogue, in the form of rigorous democratic discourse among stakeholders presents another basis for reconfiguring how people act on their environments, with a view to conserving its resources that “we require to meet our socio-economic development needs on a sustainable basis,” Masisi told attendees at the public lecture.
He said government has a keen interest in understanding the epidemiology and ecology of diseases of both domestic and wild animals. “It is our national interest to forestall the dire consequences of animal diseases on our communities livelihoods.”
President Masisi hoped that both Botswana and Virginia could help each other in curbing contagious diseases of wildlife.
“We believe that Virginia Tech can reasonably share their experiences, research insights and advances in veterinary sciences and medicines, to help us build capacity for knowledge creation and improve efforts of managing and containing contagious diseases of wildlife. The ground is fertile for entering into such a mutually beneficial partnership.”
When explaining environmental issues further, Masisi said efforts of conservation and sustainable development might at times be hampered by the emergence and recurrence of diseases when pathogens mutate and take host of more than one species.
“Water pollution also kills aquatic life, such as fish, which is one of humanity’s much deserved sources of food. In this regard, One Health Approach imposes ecological responsibility upon all of us to care for the environment and the bio-diversity therein.”
He said the production and use of animal vaccines is an important space and tool for conservation, particularly to deal with trans-border animal diseases.
“In Botswana, our 43-year-old national premier pharmaceutical institution called Botswana Vaccine Institute has played its role well. Through its successful production of highly efficacious Foot and Mouth vaccines, the country is able to contain this disease as well as supply vaccines to other countries in the sub-region.:
He has however declared that there is need for more help, saying “We need more capacitation to deal with and contain other types of microbial that affect both animals and human health.”
Masisi saddened by deaths of elephant attacks
President Mokgweetsi Masisi has expressed a strong worry over elephants killing people in Botswana. When speaking in Virginia this week, Masisi said it is unfortunate that Batswana have paid a price with their own blood through being attacked by elephants.
“Communities also suffer unimaginable economic losses yearly when their crops are eaten by the elephants. In spite of such incidents of human-elephant conflict, our people embrace living together with the animals. They fully understand wildlife conservation and its economic benefits in tourism.”
In 2018, Nthobogang Samokwase’s father was attacked by an elephant when travelling from the fields, where he stayed during the cropping season.
It was reported that the man couldn’t run because of his age. He was found trampled by the elephant and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
In the same year, in Maun, a 57-year-old British woman was attacked by an elephant at Boro and died upon arrival at the hospital. The woman was with her Motswana partner, and were walking dogs in the evening.
Last month, a Durban woman named Carly Marshall survived an elephant attack while on holiday in the bush in Botswana. She was stabbed by one of the elephant’s tucks through the chest and was left with bruises. Marshall also suffered several fractured ribs from the ordeal.
President Masisi Botswana has the largest population of African elephants in the world, totaling more than 130 000. “This has been possible due to progressive conservation policies, partnerships with the communities, and investment in wildlife management programmes.”
In order to benefit further from wildlife, Masisi indicated that government has re-introduced controlled hunting in 2019 after a four-year pause. “The re-introduction of hunting was done in an open, transparent and democratic way, giving the communities an opportunity to air their views. The funds from the sale of hunting quota goes towards community development and elephant conservation.”
He stressed that for conservation to succeed, the local people must be involved and derive benefits from the natural resources within their localities.
“There must be open and transparent consultations which involve all sectors of the society. It is against this backdrop that as a country, we lead the continent on merging conservation, democracy and sustainable development.”
Masisi stated that Botswana is open to collaborative opportunities, “particularly with identifiable partners such as Virginia Tech, in other essential areas such as conservation, and the study of the interplay among the ecology of diseases of wild animals and plants, and their effects on human health and socio-economic development.”
Gov’t commit to injecting more funds in fighting HIV
Minister for State President Kabo Morwaeng says government will continue to make resources available in terms of financial allocations and human capital to ensure that Botswana achieves the ideal of eradicating HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
Morwaeng was speaking this morning in Gaborone at the High-Level Advocacy event to accelerate HIV Prevention in Botswana. He said the National AIDS and Health Promotion Agency (NAPHA), in partnership with UNAIDS, UN agencies, the Global Fund and PEPFAR, have started a process of developing transition readiness plan for sustainability of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.
“It is important for us, as a country that has had a fair share of donor support in the response to an epidemic such as HIV and AIDS, to look beyond the period when the level of assistance would have reduced, or ceased, thus calling for domestic financing for all areas which were on donor support.”
Morwaeng said this is important as the such a plan will guarantee that all the gains accrued from the response with donor support will be sustained until the end when “we reach the elimination of HIV and AIDS as a public health threat by 20230,” he said.
“I commit to continue support efforts towards strengthened HIV prevention, accentuating HIV primary prevention and treatment as prevention towards Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma, Discrimination and Zero AIDS related death, to end AIDS in Botswana.”
He reiterated that government commits to tackle legislative, policy and programming challenges that act as barriers to the achievement of the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat.
In the financial year 2022/2023, a total of 119 Civil Society Organizations, including Faith Based Organizations, were contracted with an amount of P100 million to implement HIV and NCDs prevention activities throughout the country, and the money was drawn from the Consolidated Fund.
Through an upcoming HIV Prevention Symposium, technical stakeholders will use outcomes to develop the Botswana HIV Prevention Acceleration Road Map for 2023-2025.
Morwaeng stated that government will support and ensure that Botswana plays its part achieving the road map. He said there is need to put hands on the deck to ensure that Botswana sustains progress made so far in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
“There are tremendous achievements thus far to, reach and surpass the UNAIDS fast track targets of 95%- 95%- 95% by the year 2025. As reflected by the BAIS preliminary results of 2021, we now stand at 95- 98- 98 against the set targets.”
“These achievements challenge us to now shift our gears and strive to know who are the remaining 5% for those aware of their HIV status, 2% of enrolment on treatment by those aware of their status and 2% of viral suppression by those on treatment.”
Explaining this further, Morwaeng said shift in gears should extend to coming up with robust strategies of determining where these remaining people are as well as how they will be reached with the necessary services.
“These are just some of the many variables that are required to ensure that as a country, we are well positioned to reaching the last mile of our country’s response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”