Sunday, July 12, 2020

Botswana fast losing the war on Rhino poaching

For a long time seen as the world’s haven for rhinos, Botswana is now losing the fight against rhino poaching. At least 36 rhinos are known to have been killed by poachers in the last twelve months alone.

This easily makes Botswana the world’s capital of rhino poaching.

The reality becomes scary when ones imagines that there could still be more unaccounted rhinos out there that have also fallen victim.

This week alone two carcasses of rhinos were discovered at Mombo near the Okavango Delta. Both rhinos had their horns removed.

The rhino carnage spiked after a decision by Botswana Government to disarm the Anti-Poaching Unit of the Department of Wildlife.

Botswana Defence Force was then made the primary force doing the ant-poaching.

They have however been found inadequate without the banking of the Anti-Poaching Unit.

“The decision was taken at the height of security concerns about a possible coup. The thinking at the time was that Anti-Poaching Unit would become part of such political wars that were feared. Maybe they were right. But that was such a long time ago. The effect has totally demobilised the Unit and emboldened poachers,” said one army officer.

Almost two years later, the Department of Wildlife is still to get back the arms that had been taken from them because as it was said at the time, they were not allowed to be legally carrying arms.

“But BDF is failing. Our people are only useful to an extent that they can work hand in hand with the well-trained Anti-Poaching Unit,” said a BDF senior official who spoke anonymously because he had not been authorised to speak to the media.

President Masisi is fully aware of the magnitude and scale of the problem as he was recently briefed.

“The BDF have not in so many words come out to admit that they were failing. That is basically what is coming out in all the internal meetings. Which is not surprising because the past successes have really been the result of complimentary effects between all forces.”

Fears have been raised after intelligence pointing out that there are at least five groups of international poachers now permanently stationed inside Mombo, which is often referred to as the “rhino capital.”

These are well armed poachers using sophisticated equipment including to track rhinos.

“They are now feeling buoyant. It is not like they are not aware that there exist gaps within the country’s anti-poaching efforts.”

Some of the Safari operators and owners inside the delta have also resorted to poaching, especially rhinos after they too discovered an opening, security insiders have revealed.

Rhinos top the rankings on wild animals sought by poachers for export to the far eastern countries, chiefly China. World Wildlife foundation categorise rhinos as “critically endangered.”

Last year alone from October to December, 13 rhinos were reportedly poached, culminating in a count of 31 hornless carcasses counted.

During that time the security agencies were able to kills 7 of the poachers. All the bodies remain in government mortuaries as next of kin are reluctant to come and claim them for fear of incriminating themselves.

Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism (MENRCT) has admitted that 2019 was a “record poaching” year.

For Botswana’s rhinos, the future looks bleak as the conservation decision making processes have like many other things fallen victim as they have been caught on the crosshairs of a perpetual warpath defining the relationship between former President Ian Khama and current president, Mokgweetsi Masisi.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.