Friday, December 4, 2020

Bandits run amok in the boondocks

The wild game pilfering still goes unabated. At least five white rhinos have reportedly been killed and dehorned by poachers this month as Botswana continues to lose the war against poachers. Such has been the escalation in rhino poaching since the disarming of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) anti-poaching unit in 2018 that the government seems to be pulling all stops to conceal the true extent of the problem.

Sunday Standard’s continued attempts to get answers from the DWNP in relation to the latest poaching incidents proved futile as the government failed to respond to our series of enquiries. Information passed to this publication indicates four white rhinos were poached in the first week of November. Two of the white rhinos were killed in the southern side of the Okavango Delta while the other two were poached around the Mombo area, Sunday Standard has been informed.

The latest killing of another white rhino, a source has said, happened  Thursday bringing the total number of rhinos poached within the first two weeks of November 2020 to five. Two white rhinos (male and female) were reportedly killed and dehorned in June earlier this year near Chiefs Island in the Okavango. The female had a calf. Another white Rhino was poached in the Okavango. She also had a three week old calf. Sunday Standard’s week long attempts to establish the total number of rhinos poached in 2020 were also unsuccessful with the DWNP employing delaying tactics. Two years after making international headlines by disarming its anti-poaching unit resulting in a surge in elephant and rhino poaching incidents Botswana is finally coming to terms with what has now proved to be an ill-advised decision. The government recently (August 2020) decided to return the ammunition back to the rangers in an effort to curb the increasing numbers in poaching.

The Attorney Generals chambers were expected to draft a new piece of legislation that will facilitate re-arming of the anti-poaching unit. Minister of Wildlife Philda Kereng confirmed the developments to Parliament following calls by opposition to reverse the 2018 decision. “My ministry is committed to empowering members of the anti-poaching unit under the Department of Wildlife and National parks to undertake their duties. This includes providing them with necessary resources and equipment including appropriate firearms,” she said.

The move came at a time when Botswana had been on the losing side of a protracted battle against poachers who killed at least 36 rhinos and 11 elephants between April 2018 and December 2019. The 2020 statistics, reports suggest, may paint an even more devastating picture of the poaching situation. Kereng told parliament in August early this year that Botswana has in recent months experienced a decline in the poaching of elephants as poachers turned their focus on rhinoceros due to high demand for their horns in the Far East Asia.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks early this year embarked on a dehorning exercise in a bid to combat poaching and safeguard the future of the declining rhino species. “This exercise was prompted by the surge in rhino poaching over the past few years,” the DWNP had said. The Director of the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) Brigadier Peter Magosi has also defended the decision. Magosi has said the dehorning of rhinos is the only way they can ensure protection of the animals from poachers. DWNP have said both white rhino and black rhinos have been severely affected necessitating the implementation of critical and impactful interventions to arrest the situation.

Following the disarming of the anti-poaching unit in May 2018 Botswana has been recording an unprecedented rise in poaching activities. The rise has resulted in a clash between the Botswana Defence Force and poachers in the Okavango and Chobe areas. The army have killed in excess of 20 suspected poachers so far in 2020. Botswana’s ‘shoot to kill’ policy against suspected poachers is currently under the spotlight following the killing of four Namibians suspected to be poachers in the Chobe area just over a week ago. The incident has threatened to dent diplomatic relations between the two countries as Namibian citizens took to the streets of the capital Windhoek in protest the recent killings. Botswana has reportedly killed close to 40 Namibians over poaching suspicions since independence in 1966.

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The Telegraph December 2

Digital edition of The Telegraph, December 2, 2020.