By Richard Moleofe
In the midst of the elephant debate, what is China doing to participate fruitfully in wildlife conservation in Botswana? The Department of Wildlife and National Parks has for the last twenty-six years had an anti-poaching division. They were initially trained by Botswana Defence Force Commandos in 1990 in Pandamatenga.
The government of Botswana’s biggest challenge in sustaining the tourism industry has always been with the problem of illegal hunting of animals and especially those valued for their horns and tusks. The rhino and the elephant are the two key species of animals that are seriously threatened by this illegal business.
Poaching in Botswana started being a big problem after Namibia got its independence in 1990. Most of those who were fighting the independence war on the wrong side remained unemployed and therefore resorted to poaching. This was their best way forward in making sure that they continued to earn a living.
Therefore poaching became the number one stumbling block to our tourism industry. Tourism is a key contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product and the factor of poaching started to bring down these critical earnings.
The Government of China has since identified the need for the anti-poaching unit to be fully equipped. The donation of several equipment comes at a time when Botswana is faced with the challenge of defending her stance on the reintroduction of hunting while the ban has been on since 2014.
I have always been of the view that the Anti-poaching Unit should be self sustaining and not dependent on the army for its functions. They have since received the appropriate training. For some time now they had not been kitted and equipped properly. To address this, the Government of China through their embassy in Gaborone donated a massive amount of kit to the unit and all this was directed to the efforts of dealing a blow to the poachers.
Poaching is a growing industry and it is so far fuelled by the demand from the East including China. For this reason, the Government of China does not want to become an accomplice in the illegal trade of ivory and horns. They have contributed handsomely to the Department of Wildlife.
The Department received a donation of anti-poaching equipment amounting to about P17 million from the Government of China. The money was a necessary gift because Botswana has been struggling financially to deal with the challenges of anti-poaching.
The Department of Wildlife has effectively been transformed with the gift and this array of equipment. Their dependence on other law enforcement agencies particularly the military will be greatly reduced.
It might look like China is kitting Botswana’s third army. But it is doing a noble job of helping Botswana in the preservation of her wildlife. Wildlife departments across the world are usually self sufficient and the example of such is Kenya Wildlife Services.
Let me note here that the Chinese government has not donated any weapons for the anti-poaching effort. What they did was to give Botswana what is often referred to as non-lethal aid.
China has come on the world stage of anti-poaching at the right time. They are a growing world power and I am gratified that they have realised the need to participate in this area.
Our country’s tourism industry will be none existent without wildlife. This means Botswana should regard this to be the greatest gift ever from the Government of China. They have given us a lifeline.
China is a country that holds 20% of the world’s population and they present a huge opportunity to Botswana’s tourism industry. If the Chinese start coming here in numbers, we will be overwhelmed and our economy can be transformed overnight.
Indeed the world can never win the war against poaching unless China participates actively in this exercise. The population of China will become key in restoring the rhino populations by appreciating live animals in our game parks. The more they visit this part of the world to see these animals, the less effort there will be in the anti-poaching drive.
The best way for our government to attract more Chinese tourists into Botswana will be to change policies that were fashioned with Western countries in mind. Our country has become so dependent on Western tourists even though we do not see any trickledown effect on the ordinary citizen and particularly communities living in wildlife areas.
China’s domestic tourism industry is alive and thriving. Because of their numbers, they are not dependent on some European or American traveller to bring business to their country. Their domestic market in the area of tourism is very healthy.
Our cooperation with China in the area of anti-poaching certainly paves a clear route to doing tourism business together. What I see China doing is to eliminate the threat of poachers in our parks and by so doing making our environment safer for future Chinese tourists.
Let’s face reality, China’s participation in Botswana’s tourism will certainly help in the eradication of poverty, something that the government of Botswana has been struggling with for decades. But the starting point is the war with poachers who want our rhinos and elephants extinct.
Through the right collaboration, the people of Asian countries and particularly those from China through their visits to Botswana and her neighbours will over time become leaders in the preservation of species that are particularly threatened.
On the other hand, the Government of Botswana needs to notice this great potential from the Chinese people. The provision of visas must be made easy on our side and this will particularly grow tourism as a business.
The Government of Botswana and the people of this country need to awaken to the fact that China holds the world’s second largest economy. We have more to benefit from China than them from us.
Because China is leading in technological innovation, they should assist this country in developing security systems that will help monitor our wildlife parks. This technology would not only help as a security gadget, but would help tour operators to identify areas where tourists can easily find wild animals.