Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Special Forces Unit has been placed at the centre of recent rhino killings making international headlines, an observation that was refuted by the institution’s protocol and public affairs department this week.
Three rhinos were killed last week at the Chief’s Island, Okavango Delta area, taking the total number of poached rhinos to 57 in the last few months. Reports reaching WeekendPost suggests that the BDF Special Forces Unit is currently working under ‘protest’. It is reported that the protest emanates from the fact that the Special Forces Unit did not benefit from the 2019 salary adjustments known as ‘Ntlole’. There is suspicion that the Special Forces Unit’s dejection is the cause of recent unprecedented rate of rhino poaching in the Okavango Delta area.
Impeccable sources close to the barracks told this publication that based on their experience, Special Forces Unit has been of paramount importance and plays a pivotal role in the anti- poaching unit. “The difference between them and Infantry unit, Botswana Prisons Services and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks anti- poaching unit is that when they have contact, they eliminate almost all the poachers on the spot while others kill one and the rest will flee the scene,” one of the sources said.
It is reported that under former President Lt Gen Ian Khama, where only four rhinos were poached in ten years, members of the Special Unit showed a high understanding of the anti- poaching exercise and did it passionately. The National Coordinator of the anti- poaching unit, as a practice, used to give a weekly report to President Khama and the Commander of the BDF on their operations, a routine that is reportedly no longer practiced by the current administration.
Colonel Tebo Dikole, Director, Protocol and Public Affairs declined to comment as BDF does not discuss operational matters such as, “the number of members of the Special Forces and Infantry Units currently deployed in the anti- poaching operations at Chief’s Island”. Colonel Dikole said notwithstanding the above, it is worth mentioning that assertions to the effect that Special Force members are sabotaging anti- poaching operations because they have not been affected by the 2019 BDF salary adjustments dubbed ‘Ntlole’, are absurd.
Dikole said that ‘conspiracy theories’ such as the one alleged in this case, only has the propensity to mislead the public and to tarnish the good name of the BDF. “The BDF in the execution of its mission of defending Botswana’s Territorial Integrity, Sovereignty and National Interests is not driven by the profit or remuneration. All BDF members including Special Forces’ performance hinges on one of our core values of ‘Duty’ which succinctly states that, ‘Duty is accomplishing all assigned tasks to the fullest of our ability,’ ” he said.
“The BDF wishes to underscore the fact that there is a marked difference between BDF members and mercenaries whose prime or sole motivation is private gain, whereas BDF members have been capacitated to put service before self as anything to the contrary would render such an individual not a member of the BDF in good standing.” Dikole said it would be wrong to attribute increased poaching to supposedly disgruntled BDF members.
He said poaching of rhinos in many countries has spiked up because of the astronomically high returns on the value of the rhino horn which is alleged to be around sixty five dollars ($65 000) per kg in the illegal market. A few days ago Africa CGTN reported that, the killings – slightly under 10 percent of Botswana’s total rhino population – have occurred in the northern Moremi Game Reserve since April last year. “Poaching has risen at an alarming rate in this area,” Moemi Batshabang, a deputy director with the government’s wildlife department told AFP.
“I can attest that 46 rhinos have been killed by highly organised poachers between April last year to date,” he said. Botswana is home to 500 rhinos, according to international conservation charity, Save the Rhino. They are a protected species in Botswana and fall outside the government’s recent decision to end a five- year ban on trophy- hunting licences, which is largely targeted at the burgeoning elephant population. “The increase in poaching of both the black and white rhino is of concern and unusual,” said Batshabang.
The unprecedented rate of poaching last year prompted the government to warn that the rhino population could be wiped out in the southern African country by 2021. Botswana’s neighbour South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos and the epicentre of rhino poaching, lost 594 rhinos to poachers last year. The good news is that this marks a 23 percent drop from the previous year.
As a response to avert vulture poisoning currently going on in Botswana and KAZA region, Birdlife Botswana has collaborated with three other partners (BirdWatch Zambia, BirdLife International & Birdlife Zimbabwe) to tackle wildlife poisoning which by extension negatively affect vulture populations.
The Director of Birdlife Botswana, Motshereganyi Virat Kootshositse has revealed in an interview that the project which is funded by European Union’s main goal is to reduce poisoning related vultures’ death and consequently other wildlife species death within the KAZA region.
He highlighted that Chobe district in Botswana has been selected as a pilot site as it has experienced rampant incidents of vulture poisoning for the past few months. In August this year at least 50 endangered white backed vultures were reported dead at Chobe National Park, Botswana after feeding on a buffalo carcass laced with poison. In November this year again 43 white backed vultures were found dead and two alive after feeding on a zebra suspected to have poisoned. Other selected pilots’ sites are Kafue in Zambia and Hwange in Zimbabwe.
Kootshositse further explained they have established a national and regional Wildlife Poisoning Committee. He added that as for the national committee they have engaged various departments such as Crop Productions, Agro Chemicals, Department of Veterinary Services, Department of Wildlife and National Parks and other NGOs such as Raptors Botswana to come together and find a long-lasting solution to address wildlife poisoning in Botswana. ‘Let’s have a strategy or a plan together to tackle wildlife poisoning,’ he stated
He also decried that there is gap in the availability of data about vulture poisoning or wildlife in general. ‘If we have a central point for data, it will help in terms of reporting and advocacy’, he stated
He added that the regional committee comprises of law enforcement officers such as BDF and Botswana police, village leadership such as Village Development Committee and Kgosi. ‘We need to join hand together and protect the wildlife we have as this will increase our profile for conservation and this alone enhances our visitation and boost our local economy,’ he noted
Kootshositse noted that Birdlife together with DWNP also addressed series of meeting in some villages in the Chobe region recently. The purpose of kgotla meetings was to raise awareness on the conservation and protection of vultures in Chobe West communities.
‘After realizing that vulture poisoning in the Chobe areas become frequent, we realise that we need to do something about it. ‘We did a public awareness by addressing several kgotla meetings in some villages in the Chobe west,’ he stated
He noted that next year they are going to have another round of consultations around the Chobe areas and the approach is to engage the community into planning process. ‘Residents should be part of the plan of actions and we are working with farmers committee in the areas to address vulture poisoning in the area, ‘he added
He added that they have found out that some common reasons for poisoning wildlife are farmers targeting predators such as lions in retaliation to killing of their livestock. Another common incident cross border poaching in the Chobe area as poachers will kills an elephant and poison its carcass targeting vultures because of their aerial circling alerting authorities about poaching activities.
Kootshositse noted that in the last cases it was disheartening the incidents occurred three months apart. He added that for the first time they found that some of the body parts of some vultures were missing. He added harvesting of body parts of vultures is not a common practice in Botswana, although it is used in some parts of Africa. ‘We suspect that someone took advantage of the availability of carcasses and started harvesting their body parts,’
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Minister of Health Dr Edwin Dikoloti says Africa member states call on World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure equitable resource allocation for 2024-2025. Dr Dikoloti was speaking this week at the WHO Executive Board Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
He said countries agreed that there is need to address the budget and funding imbalances by increasing the programme budget share of countries and regions to 75% for the next year.
“The proposed budget for 2024-2025 marks an important milestone as it is the first in Programme Budget in which country offices will be allocated more than half of the total budget for the biennium. We highly welcome this approach which will enable the organization to deliver on its mandate while fulfilling the expectations for transparency, efficiency and accountability.”
The Botswana Health Minister commended member states on the extension of the General Programme of Work (GPD 13) and the Secretariat work to monitor the progress towards the triple billion targets, and the health-related SDGs.
“We welcome the Director’s general proposed five priorities which have crystalized into the “five Ps” that are aligned with the GPW 13 extension. Impact can only be achieved through close coordination with, and support to national health authorities. As such, the strengthening of country offices is instrumental, with particular focus on strengthening national health systems and on promoting more equitable access to health services.”
According to Dr Dikoloti, the majority of countries with UHC index that is below the global median are in the WHO Africa region. “For that, we call on the WHO to enhance capacity at the regional and national levels in order to accelerate progress. Currently, the regional office needs both technical and financial support in order to effectively address and support country needs.”