The Okavango Delta has been turned in to an elephants’ graveyard as poachers open their vengeance on the large mammals along the wetlands. It is not only elephants that are under threat, it is also becoming increasingly clear that poachers are eyeing the recovering population of rhinos in the Okavanago Delta.
However there are allegations that government maybe deliberately under reporting the exten t of poaching in Botswana for the fear of affecting the local tourism sector. Heralded as a conservation success story, Botswana has in recent years received rhino donations from the Republic of South Africa where rhinos killed in large numbers by poachers. But of late there is an apparent fear that given the lax in anti poaching operations in Botswana, the country is following in to the footsteps of South Africa.
This week WeekendPost was invited by the local conservation group, Elephants Without Borders (EWB) to aerialy witness the ongoing elephants poaching horror. From chartered Helicopter Horizons Chopper, scores of dead elephants littered the Mophane woodlands of Khwai concession.About seven elephants carcass, all with removed fronts of their heads and missing tusks were seen. Coincidentialy, all the carcasses of the seven elephants counted were all located along water ponds something that proves poachers ambush the animals when they come for drinking.
EWB Director, Dr Mike Chase revealed that they have so far counted about 90 elephants’ carcasses in the area from Khwai to Linyanti concesions. EWB is currently undertaking the 2018 Botswana Elephants Census in collaboration with the Botswana Government. The aerial survey which is undertaken using latest technology strives to clear the confusion on how many elephants exist in Botswana for better management and policy formulation.
The survey concludes in October this year. However one of the discoveries made by Dr Chase and his team has been the big numbers of poached elephants in the Khwai area. “Elephant poaching has been ongoing for more than two years. From the carcasses we have seen today it is clear that poachers take out elephants of all ages. It’s serious but no one is doing anything about this growing problem which will affect the local tourism sector.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity during the recent Elephants Management Plan meeting at Maun Lodge, an anti poaching officer explained that poaching has escalated in Botswana since the introduction of the hunting ban in 2014. He said: “The hunting ban has created lots of problems for anti poaching operations in Botswana due to high elephants’ numbers that have taken refuge here. Poaching syndicates have now strenthened their operations in the country and we have intelligence that they have even penetrated our law enforcement agencies and the local communities.”
Tuelo Montshonyane of Machaba Safaris in an interview also attested that poaching is on the rise. However he opined that most people commiting poaching are wellknown community members known to law enforcement. He said: “Majority of poachers are wellknown. I wonder why anti poaching officers allow them to escape with impunity.” Meanwhile a white rhino was recently gunned down in NG 32 Concession in what is suspected to be a poaching incident. The animal was shot with a heavy calibre rifle probably on August 18.
According to Botswana Police Services (BPS), the horns of the animals have been crudely removed and taken away by the unknown perpetrators but indications are that this was an opportunistic crime rather than one by organised criminals. According to sources at BPS, three well known poaching suspects from Maun were rounded up by the law enforcement but were later released due to lack of evidence.
Ngamiland District Wildlife coordinator, Timmy Blackbeared has raised alarm that if no arrests are made this may encourage the poachers to kill more of the rhinos in the Okavango Delta. Blackbeard revealed that a P 25,000-reward has been put out for any person who helps the law enforcement with information that could lead to the arrest of culprits who killed the white rhino.
WeekendPost understands that currently the bulk of anti-poaching operations are undertaken by Botswana Defence Force in Ngamiland. However the BDF is also said to be thin on the ground due to limited resources. Information reaching this publication is that when the NG 32 rhino was killed some of the BDF anti-poaching officers based in Ngamiland were still engaged in Gantsi area where three other rhinos were killed in private properties this year for their horns.
Blackbeard however revealed that the anti poaching officers have been left in the lurch with no arms to fight the rising poaching since Botswana Defence Force and Directorate of Intelligence Services disarmed the enviroment ministry in May. “Our Anti poaching unit in Ngamiland does not have even a single rifle for its operations as all our rifles have been taken by BDF. It’s very difficult to fight poaching without assault because poachers these days are using surpressed weapons.”
Meanwhile it is not clear when government will warm-up to installing non-intrusive inspection technology like cargo scanners at veterinary gates acrosss Botswana. The veterinay gates along main highways dualy serve as seach points aganst illegal products trafficking. Lots of wildlife products derived from Ngamiland are transported through Makalamabedi gate to neghbouring countries particularly Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, District No. 5 Commander Peter Gochela has said that police operations at Makalamabedi Veterinary gate are effective. He said: “For intelligence reasons, I cannot detail what measures we use at Makalamabedi Gate to arrest perpetrators. But we are very effective as we have made many arrests there. ”
Gochela however could not rule out that government may in future instal modern seach technologies at strategic areas saying: ‘as crime evolves the law enforment strategy also has to adapt.’ Gochela further confirmed that poaching especialy for elephants is on the rise in Ngamiland.
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s decision to reject and appeal the High Court’s verdict on a case involving High Court Judge, Dr Zein Kebonang has frustrated the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and Judge Kebonang’s back to work discussions.
JSC and Kebonang have been in constant discussions over the latter’s return to work following a ruling by a High Court panel of judges clearing him of any wrong doing in the National Petroleum Fund criminal case filed by the DPP. However the finalization of the matter has been hanged on whether the DPP will appeal the matter or not – the prosecution body has since appealed.
Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) top brass has declined a request by Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to negotiate the legal fees occasioned by 2019 general elections petition in which the latter disputed in court the outcome of the elections.
This publication is made aware that UDC Vice President Dumelang Saleshando was left with an egg on his face after the BDP big wigs, comprising of party Chairman Slumber Tsogwane and Secretary General Mpho Balopi rejected his plea.
“He was told that this is a legal matter and therefore their (UDC) lawyer should engage ours (BDP) for negotiations because it is way far from our jurisdiction,” BDP Head of Communications, Kagelelo Kentse, told this publication.
This spelt doom for the main opposition party and Saleshando who seems not to have confidence and that the UDC lawyers have the dexterity to negotiate these kind of matters. It is not clear whether Saleshando requested UDC lawyer Boingotlo Toteng to sit at the table with Bogopa Manewe, Tobedza and Co, who are representing the BDP to strike a deal as per the BDP top echelons suggested.
“From my understanding, the matter is dealt with politically as the two parties are negotiating how to resolve it, but by far nothing has come to me on the matter. So I believe they are still substantively engaging each other,” Toteng said briefly in an interview on Thursday.
UDC petitioners saddled with costs after mounting an unprecedented legal suit before the court to try and overturn BDP’s October 2019 victory. The participants in the legal matter involves 15 parliamentary candidates’ and nine councillors. The UDC petitioned the court and contested the outcome of the elections citing “irregularities in some of the constituencies”.
In a brief ruling in January 2020, Judge President Ian Kirby on behalf of a five-member panel said: “We have no jurisdiction to entertain these appeals. These appeals must be struck out each with costs including costs of counsel”. This was a second blow to the UDC in about a month after their 2019 appeals were dismissed by the High Court a day before Christmas Day.
This week BDP attorneys decided to attach UDC petitioners’ property in a bid to settle the debts. UDC President Duma Boko is among those that will see their property being attached with 14 of his party members. “We have attached some and we are on course. So far, Dr. Mpho Pheko (who contested Gaborone Central) and that of Dr, Micus Chimbombi (who contested Kgalagadi South) will have their assets being sold on the 5th of February 2021,” BDP attorney Basimane Bogopa said.
Asked whether they met with UDC lawyers to try solve the matter, Bogopa said no and added. “Remember we are trying to raise the client’s funds, so after these two others will follow. Right now we are just prioritising those from Court of Appeal, as soon as the high court is done with taxation we will attach.”
Saleshando, when contacted about the outcomes of the meeting with the BDP, told WeekendPost that: “It would not be proper and procedural for me to tell you about the meeting outcomes before I share with UDC National Executive Committee (NEC), so I will have to brief them first.”
UDC NEC will meet on the 20th of next month to deal with a number of thorny issues including settling the legal fees. Negotiations with other opposition parties- Alliance for Progressives and Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) are also on the agenda.
Currently, UDC has raised P44 238 of the P565 000 needed to cover bills from the Court of Appeal (CoA). This is the amount in a UDC trust account which is paltry funds equating 7.8 per cent of the overall required money. In the past despite the petitioners maintaining that there was promise to assist them to settle legal fees, UDC Spokesperson, Moeti Mohwasa then said the party has never agreed in no way to help them.
“We have just been put in debt by someone,” one of the petitioners told this publication in the past. “President’s (Duma Boko) message was clear at the beginning that money has been sourced somewhere to help with the whole process but now we are here there is nothing and we are just running around trying to make ends meet and pay,” added the petitioner in an interview UDC NEC has in December last year directed all the 57 constituencies to each raise a minimum of P10, 000. The funds will be used to settle debts that are currently engulfing the petitioners with Sheriffs, who are already hovering around ready to attach their assets.
The petitioners, despite the party intervention, have every right to worry. “This is so because ‘the deadline for this initiative (P10, 000 per constituency) is the end of the first quarter of this year (2021),” a period in which the sheriffs would have long auctioned the properties.
President of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Duma Boko’s alliance with former President Lt Gen Ian Khama continues to unsettle some quarters within the opposition collective, who believe the duo, if not managed, will once again result in an unsuccessful bid for government in 2024.
While Khama has denied that he has undeclared preference to have Boko remaining as leader of UDC, many believe that the two have a common programme, while other opposition leaders remain on the side-lines.