Thursday, October 22, 2020

Anti ÔÇô game hunting lobby rattles government

The Botswana Government is worried that negative reports around the lifting of the hunting ban may harm Botswana’s tourism.

This comes after Director of Elephants Without Boarders Dr Mike Chase and Director of Great Plains Dereck Joubert issued statements warning of “dozens of poached elephants” and disparaging “Botswana’s Blood Law” respectively. 

Responding to Sunday Standard queries, deputy Permanent Secretary in the responsible for Tourism, Felix Monggae confirmed  that “We agree that some statements made by Dr Chase and others are likely to have a negative impact on our tourism industry.”

“We shall therefore engage with other Ministries, our Foreign missions, other countries, and our local and international media and partners to continue preaching our true conservation ethos that does not leave out the people living alongside these animals,” said Monggae.

He explained that the press release issued by the Ministry recently was not to dismiss a report by Chase which purported that the number of elephants killed by poachers was on a large scale but to state the government’s position. “It was to communicate the Ministry’s observations from the report. It was to communicate to the general public observations from a report that was eagerly awaited. We appreciate that the methodology used is sound but we differ with some of his interpretations,” said Monggae.

Asked if the government is likely to take stern action against those who are “bringing the image of the country into disrepute” by mobilising the international community, Monggae explained that “all that we have to do is to present our side of the story which emanates from the wishes and concerns of Batswana based on the realities on ground.”

He said the government has never denied elephant poaching in Botswana which is taking place across the entire elephant range countries in Africa.

“However elephant poaching in Botswana is happening at a scale consistent with the population of Elephants in the country, and other dynamics like the geographic spread of the species and sparsely occupied areas where it is taking place,” he said.

Chase has also rubbished suggestion that he has a contract with the government and that he might have breached some contractual obligations.

“I felt it important to correct this commonly held misconception. The aerial survey was funded by both EWB and the Conservation Trust Fund (CTF). I sought to make it clear that the funding for the aerial survey did not come from tax payers’ money. CTF is administered by an independent board of trustees who voted in favour of awarding a grant to EWB,” said Chase when responding to Sunday Standard queries.

He added that “CTF is specifically mandated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to use CTF funds explicitly for elephant conservation. As with previous aerial survey collaborations between EWB and DWNP, the survey team included a DWNP observer.”

But Monggae insisted that “Dr Chase entered into a contract with Government of Botswana, represented by Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) to conduct a dry season aerial survey of wildlife. The contract was signed by Dr Chase on behalf of EWB, and the PS, Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism (MENT) representing Government of Botswana.”

He said the contract included funding from the Conservation Trust Fund (CTF), a special fund under Government of Botswana.

Chase also denied accusations that he has defied government’s warning that the issue of elephants poaching should be handled with care as it has the potential to have a negative impact on the country’s image and tourism industry.

“I have asked, and continue to ask, that a calm discussion on elephant conservation issues be addressed without animosity and to reach agreement on vital action needed to ensure successful elephant conservation,” he said.

According to Chase, elephants are facing a growing poaching threat in Botswana.

“North of Botswana, poachers have decimated elephant herds in both southeast Angola and southwest Zambia. Poaching in 4 Botswana does not appear to have reached similar levels of severity at this time, but evidence suggests that this problem has now reached Botswana and is escalating,” he said.

He said from a number of studies elsewhere in Africa, an initial increase in elephant poaching similar to that now seen in Botswana, has often been followed by major reductions in elephant populations.

“However, we are hopeful that Botswana’s impeccable conservation record will curtail any further elephant poaching escalations. We are also hopeful that the findings in this report will aid Botswana authorities by documenting poaching hotspots in need of increased law enforcement efforts,” said Chase.

For his part, Joubert issued a statement stating that “Whilst disturbing, I cannot for a moment believe that any government, let alone Botswana’s, which is world renown for being moderate and well informed, would adopt this policy. We believe that it will be stopped in its tracks but we are soliciting support to help express exactly how shameful it would be to institute a policy such as this.”

Joubert who is a business associate of former President Ian Khama added that “Botswana’s proposed ‘Blood Law’ would be instituting policies to do all of that.  We will be voicing our opinion against this, as strongly as we can. I will be doing that personally, as the CEO of this company, our foundation, and as large investors in Botswana. Great Plains Conservation will be doing the same.” 

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