Sunday, September 27, 2020

EWB kept DISS’ elephant poaching a secret

In addition to being an NGO, there is another label that can fit Elephants Without Borders very well ÔÇô “selective outrage machine.”

Judging by content on its Facebook wall, it is evident that EWB monitors both domestic and international media for stories on wildlife, especially elephants. The thoroughness of the media monitoring shows that it was both consistent and systematic.

However, something highly unusual happened on April 3 last year when Sunday Standard published a story about three agents of a rogue unit within the then dreaded Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) who were caught with a stash of elephant tusks in an operation that was mounted by the intelligence unit of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Part of the story reads: “Information gathered by the Wildlife Intelligence Unit suggests that the DISS has been smuggling ivory and diamonds out of the country in their Pilatus PC 12 aircraft as diplomatic cargo which enjoys immunity from search or seizure.”

EWB’s single post for that day is of an elephant gallivanting at the edge of the Chobe River in Kasane: “Playing with his food?!”
A content bull enjoying the tall grasses growing in the Chobe river, Botswana… cleaning off the muddy roots before happily eating. He took his time and ate for hours.” The comments from keen followers of EWB Facebook wall suggest that writers thought that this was a normal day: “Absolutely loved chobe, elephants, hippos, such a beautiful place”, “So awesome”, “Chobe is such a magical place!”,  “stay safe”, “Wonderful sight” and “Shane Fleming are you ready for Africa?” The EWB post was made at 1327 p.m., hours after Sunday Standard had posted its own story about DISS agents poaching elephants.

Contrast visitor comments with those reacting to an “amazing photo” posted three weeks later that demonstrates how a monitoring collar worn by an elephant nicknamed “Kwebe” deflected a poacher’s bullet: “cant we arm them with armor and a grenade launcher??”,  “so glad kwebe will be ok!”, “Stop killing the elephants you jerks!” and “Death sentence for scum poacher.” A fortnight ago, EWB sent what the government says was a false report about elephant poaching and the comments from its mostly international supporters were very angry. Ignoring the DISS story shows how easy it is for the NGO to manipulate its international supporters – who use it as main source of information about elephant poaching in Botswana.

Supposing though that the NGO had provided a link to this story the usual way, there would have been a lot of awkwardness at the next meeting of Tlhokomela Wildlife Trust, a wildlife NGO whose members are Dr. Mike Chase, the EWB Director; the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama; former President and Tshekedi’s elder brother, Lieutenant General Ian Khama; and Jillian Blackbeard, the Marketing Manager of Botswana Tourism Organisation. All are from Serowe. With a parliamentary oversight committee never having convened a single meeting, General Khama was the one authority who exercised oversight over DISS, which was headed by Colonel Isaac Kgosi, his former long-time aide-de-camp in the army and private secretary during his vice presidency. Basically that means that the elephants in Sunday Standard’s story were killed under DISS watch. This is the same Khama whom the international community has lauded as the world’s number one protector of elephants.

EWB credibility has also been questioned with regard to its use of what seems to be an all-purpose picture. When it sent an international alert about a massacre of elephants, it used a picture of three supposedly dead, tuskless elephants. That same picture was used last month with a completely different caption: “Nap time! the winter chills are over and the days are heating up, afternoons are a good time for snoozing under the shade of an acacia tree!”

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.