The advent of Chinese investment around the country has been linked to the upsurge of elephant poaching, allegedly perpetrated by gangs connected to Chinese ivory buyers often in collusion with anti-poaching units.
The Chinese’s alleged involvement comes at a time when a number of Chinese nationals have been arraigned before the courts for illegal possession and smuggling of ivory.
The harrowing details of elephant poaching are not helped by some individuals within the Anti Poaching Unit, which is comprised of Botswana Defence Force and Department of Wildlife and National Parks believed to be in cohorts with Chinese ivory buyers.
The National Coordinator for the Anti Poaching Unit, Brigadier Terry Macheng, revealed in an interview that the Chinese nationals have created a market for ivory in Botswana.
He said that providing a market for the sale of ivory on the black market has resulted in increasing incidents of poaching where big game wildlife, such as elephants, are killed in Chobe and Okavango. Macheng indicated that mostly Chinese nationals were involved in buying and transporting of the ivory.
He stated that the availability of the market at the advent of Chinese had made it easy for anyone to become a poacher.
“In the past, the incidents of poaching were low, compared to this year, because there was no market for ivory in the local market. People had to go to South Africa to sell such ivory and incidents of poaching were low,” said Macheng.
He further noted that they had since approached the Office of the President seeking advice about Chinese construction companies’ sites that are suspected to be used as collection points for ivory.
He explained that usually these sites are not vacated after completion of projects around the country. Macheng stated that the sites are always manned and it had became clear that they harbour criminal activities, such as the collection of ivory. Macheng said that the gangs sometimes keep this ivory in machines and later ship the machines under the pretext that the machines were not working. He also added that poaching was too complex to manage these days.
“We have difficulty as anti poaching unit because we have an enemy within us. We suspect that some of us are divulging information about our missions to gangs involved in poaching. It is easier for them to poach since they know our operations. Just about anyone could be a poacher now because the market for ivory is available in the country,” said Macheng.
He said that though the Chinese were not physically involved in poaching, their involvement has contributed to the increasing incidents of poaching.
The government spokesperson, Jeff Ramsey, also emphasised a need to engage China through their embassy and missions about the alleged growing incidents of Chinese involvement in ivory smuggling.
“State to state relations are necessary,” said Ramsay. “We will see many people from the Far East being involved in this kind of situation. There is quite a number of law enforcement officers to fight this practice. China is committed to the ending of smuggling of ivory.”
On another matter, a Chinese female, Beili Zhang, 49, who was deported this week appeared before Court charged with unlawful possession of elephant tusks without a license.
Her deportation comes shortly after the prosecution indicated during her court appearance that they were not against her bail application since she has been staying in Botswana for more that sixteen years.
She was granted conditional bail of P5 000 and was advised to provide two sureties, one being a Motswana and the other Chinese national.
Lui Hongbo, 34, an engineer at Jianshu Company who was found in possession of elephant tusks was denied bail pending further investigations.