The National Anti-Poaching Coordinator, Brigadier Sentsekae Macheng, has spoken of how game poaching in Botswana is fast morphing into a strategic issue that threatens the country’s national interests.
Speaking in an interview, Macheng said new evidence points to the fact that poaching in Botswana is not only growing in scale but is becoming more sophisticated, more complex and more commercialized.
He told Sunday Standard that evidence points to the fact that more and more people involved in the killing of animals – especially elephants and rhinos, which are killed for their horns, are people who have military background.
More than ever before, said Macheng, poachers are now much more ready and willing to shoot to kill.
It has happened more than once, he said.
“When you take the example of East Africa, the Somalis go into Kenya specifically for animals, but also people. That undermines security but also governance. Back home we are realising that in the same way poaching is fast becoming trans-national.”
Brigadier Macheng said there is also evidence that poachers are now ready and willing to barter their loot with exchange for diamonds.
“It is no longer that the trade is conducted just using money. We now increasingly see poachers bartering diamonds with ivory, which makes it all the scarier. As a country, we should not take game poaching lightly.”
He said Batswana should be grateful for the fact that there is substantial political will to fight poaching.
“Many countries believe we are doing the right thing,” he said.
President Ian Khama is an internationally acclaimed conservationist who has won world recognition for his life-long commitment to wildlife preservation and conservation.
Despite national efforts to fight poaching as shown by resources the country is committing to the cause, Macheng says we still have a long way to go.
He said in recent months there has been an upsurge of poaching, especially targeted at elephants.
“The truth is we have not fully gripped the extent of the problem. One thing we know is that poachers have become more daring.”
He speaks of how not long ago a group of poachers literally used arms to force private game wardens to release a section of the compatriots that had been arrested in a private game park in the North West.
Another example, he said, is that the Khama Rhino sanctuary just outside Serowe received a group of unwanted guests who intelligence later revealed as a part of the reconnaissance party for poachers.
On the methods used, Brigadier Macheng says poachers are always ahead in their tactics.
“We are now seeing another form of poaching in the method used. Poisoning is fast becoming a tactic of choice.”
A big number of elephants were recently discovered dead in Savuti in the Chobe area under circumstances that drew authorities to suspect poisoning of the water wells. The only solace they got was that tusks were still intact, indicating that anti-poaching units had got there first.
“It was only a matter of timing. We know for sure that in Zimbabwe poisoning has been used. Poisoning is useful to poachers because it is silent.”
But who exactly has been found to be involved in this large scale poaching.
Macheng is categorical that everybody is a potential poacher. “Very sadly we have had law enforcement officers themselves involved as have been big business people in the private sector. It could be anybody really,” he said.
The one worrying factor, said Macheng, is that in a growing way poachers are increasingly found to be given logistical support for their operations.
If you take poaching in the Chobe, for example, it is very clear that poachers are people who have very elaborate military training. This is clear from the manner of the killing as well as the skills of the poachers.
Macheng said poachers in the Chobe area go in small but very professional groups that are very hard to detect.
He said it is very clear that everybody in the group has a role; others provide logistical support, others provide tactical knowhow and in all instances where they harbour there is enough evidence to prove that military tactics as they pertain to security have been applied.
“Once they detect that they are being tracked they employ anti-tracking tactics which are very evasive including hiding in the burrows. This makes it very difficult to pick them from a helicopter,” he said.
Also more scarring is the fact that poachers seem to have access to intelligence on the operations of law enforcement, which clearly shows that they have penetrated and infiltrated the ranks of anti-poaching units.
“Their decision cycle is ahead of us because they have people among us,” said Brigadier Macheng.