A few months ago a decision was taken that what little is left of the South African rhinos would have to be relocated to Botswana where they have a real chance of surviving possible extinction. The idea, and it is a commendable one, is to save the rhinos from the poaching onslaught that threatens to finish some important wildlife species in that country. It was a great decision that in a very big way also paid tribute to Botswana’s already celebrated conservation success story. And Botswana Government did not miss out on the opportunity to seize on this development and tell the world of what a vote of confidence it all was on the country’s conservation efforts. In all fairness Botswana has done exceptionally well on conservation matters.
In a very big way, this is a result of political goodwill but also concerted efforts to share information with the public on the benefits of conservation which has resulted, for all its defects with the forging of a strong a partnership between the government and communities. But there are visible challenges that we have to overcome if we are going to continue as the conservation success story that we have been. Going forward we are going to have to change the way we have been protecting our wildlife. Perhaps inevitably, our success is proving to be our Achilles Heels. Because that success has resulted in ever growing number of various species, it has meant that we are attracting the bad guys who want to cash on that success.
In fact that is already happening. The mushrooming of privately owned game farms, especially along the Limpopo River in the border between Botswana and South Africa is testimony to just that. We have to admit that these farms are to a very large extent owned, not by Batswana, but by South Africans many of who are running away from South Africa where their country has decimally failed to assert a culture of conservation. Their coming into Botswana means that they are attracting attention of sophisticated poachers to our shores. There is also evidence that many of these farmers are themselves paid up members of international poaching syndicates. Thus a way has to be found to come up with new policies of how our law enforcement officers can be readily allowed access into these farms.
In the Tuli Block for example, law enforcement officers have been complaining that they do not get the kind of cooperation they expect from private wildlife ranchers. Our view is that it is a result of a combination of factors. As we say, many of these farmers are South Africans and they are largely white. Many of them have a history of racism that they are still to shed. But it is also because they do not want officials to get a clear picture and understanding of what is exactly happening inside their farms. Over the last few months, this publication has done some research to establish just what the situation is with regard to conservation in Tuli Block. Our results show that a lot of rhinos continue to be slaughtered in the privately owned ranches.
We have also found that the poachers are sophisticated, using helicopters and semi-automatic machine guns which give them an edge against the anti-poaching unit of the Department of Wildlife. And that is not all. We have discerned a steadfast unwillingness on the part of farm owners to share information with government officers including on the true numbers of the animals, especially rhinos in their farms. What obtains in the Tuli Block can easily be extrapolated to other areas including in the western parts of the country. Officers involved in anti poaching have told stories of how an ever bigger number of animals is now been killed inside the game parks.
All these pose challenges to us as a nation. There is clearly a need for us to look at the policies that have brought us success and reevaluate them with the objective of reviewing them especially in the face of changed dynamics. Bragging and rejoicing in past success can be dangerous because it tends to limit one’s scope for innovation and reinvention.