Wednesday, October 21, 2020

BDF queries Bushcraft Enterprises’ role in anti-poaching

Botswana Defence Force (BDF) officers have broken ranks with the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism over anti-poaching operations, leaked documents reveal.

The documents also suggest that Botswana’s shoot to kill position on poachers is mainly aimed at foreign poachers rather than local ones.

The report whose aim was to “analyse the operations of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF)’s contribution in the anti-poaching operations …” suggests that the Ministry of Environment Wildlife and Tourism could be holding back some important information on anti-poaching activities.

The report which was compiled by senior BDF officers states that “lack of comprehensive synergy amongst agencies is still a challenge to anti-poaching operation”.

“This is evident by the involvement of a civilian organ by the name Bushcraft Enterprises which is involved in anti-poaching activities. This company’s role and influence is not clearly spelt out to the members of the BDF on the ground,” reads the report in part.

The report recommends that there is a need for clear guidelines of the role of each stakeholder.

The report further raises questions on the rules of engagement. According to the documents, the operation uses BDF order of opening fire as a guideline to rules of engagement.

“The operation is complex and it involves curbing of both subsistence and commercial poaching. Therefore the challenge is how to differentiate local from foreign poachers as they may react in a similar manner,” reads the report.

Responding to Sunday Standard enquiries, BDF’s Director of Protocol and Public Affairs Tebo Dikole said: “As the BDF we wish to categorically state that our mission is to defend Botswana’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national interests solely or aid other government departments and security organs.”

Falling short of admitting that the involvement of Bushcraft Enterprise in anti-poaching operations has been kept a secret to members of BDF on the ground, Dikole said: “Botswana Defence Force is not privy to the information you require relating to Bushcraft Enterprises, its mandate, role and services including their payment as we have no dealings.”

While he acknowledged that the department of Wildlife and National Parks is the mandated organ in anti-poaching, Dikole said “that notwithstanding anti-poaching is not the preserve of government departments but is the responsibility of all Batswana to include private entities”.

In a written statement signed by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary Elias Magosi, the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife confirmed that “it is aware of the company. Its role is to carry out anti-poaching activities in NG26 which is a concession area leased to the current owner. This is an arrangement made by the owner”.

The owner of Bushcraft Enterprises, Wilton Raats, said: “The current role or mandate of Bushcraft Enterprises is to provide anti-poaching services in NG 26 under contract to the Concession Holder of the area and in close cooperation with relevant government agencies.”

Contrary to Dikole’s assertion that they are in the dark as to what role Bushcrafts Enterprises play, the ministry and the company’s owner said all security agents involved in anti-poaching operations are aware of that.

“…The Ministry and other government security agencies (BDF, police and DIS) are aware of these anti-poaching arrangements everywhere they are being carried out in the country,” said Magosi.

For his part Raats said: “The law enforcement agencies of Botswana Government are aware of and informed about the role and activities that Bushcraft fulfills.”

Magosi explained that the Ministry encourages all concession owners/lease holders to carry out their own anti-poaching activities to support and augment what the government is providing.

“The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and other security agencies alone cannot effectively patrol and man the whole country given its size. Communities and trusts are often encouraged to form such anti-poaching groups in consultation with the DWNP to carry out patrols in different concession areas. This is encouraged as it enables them to also assist in protecting their investments,” said Magosi.

Raats also explained that during consultations between government law enforcement agencies, Concession Holders, private sector, other stake holders and concerned public it was stated that the poaching problem in Botswana affects all as national assets are threatened.

“It was stated that Concession Holders of affected areas and the private sector should also take responsibility and make a contribution in order to protect the wildlife heritage of Botswana as well as their investment in tourism.  Bushcraft Enterprises submitted a proposal for operations in concession areas,” he said.

Botswana Police Service, which is also a stakeholder in anti-poaching activities, declined to be drawn into discussing the issue. Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Witness Bosija referred all the enquiries to the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism.

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