President Ian Khama is expected to unveil a live sized elephant statue made entirely of elephant tusk at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSKIA) on July 16, 2015. Speaking at a press conference to brief the media about the statue, Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama said the statue was in line with the ministry’s continued efforts to raise awareness on environment and sustainable development. He said the sculpture is a symbol of Botswana’s position in the protection of its natural resources particularly the management and protection of the country’s valued elephant resources.
He said unlike other countries that choose to dispose of their ivory stockpiles by burning it, the ministry chose to put the ivory to good use and recognise the integral role of elephants in the country’s biodiversity. “If we burn the ivory it is almost like we never cared about the animals,” he said. He said the ivory used in the construction of the sculpture was entirely that of elephants that died from natural death. He cited poaching of elephants as one of the biggest challenges faced by his ministry but maintains the country enjoys a relatively better record for protection of its wildlife against poaching.
On average, Tshekedi said, only 38 elephants are killed by poachers in the country. He said there are usually around 200,000 elephants in Botswana at a given time. Botswana’s promotion to Middle Income status, the minister said, has come as a curse to the country’s war against poaching. “The middle income status has caused some of our donors to hold back donations towards our anti-poaching campaign. It’s like we are being punished for managing our resources well.” He highlighted that before the illegal trade of ivory, the tusks used to lie idle in the bush, but since the trade started the government has had to collect it. “It is now a question of who gets to it first,” Tshekedi said; “the law or the poachers.”
The sculpture was designed at the cost of over 200,000 Pula with the assistance of Thapong artists. The artists’ names will be displayed alongside the statue. African leaders came together in Botswana on December 2, 2013 for an African Elephant Summit with the aim to plan and come up with a concerted action to combat poaching of the animals. Agreements were made during the summit and the leaders came up with 14 urgent measures aimed at halting and reversing the trend in illegal killing of elephants and trading in ivory. Botswana has the largest population of elephants in the world.