Thursday, July 9, 2020

PR disaster on rhinos rocks Masisi’s administration

President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s administration stumbled big on a decision to dehorn rhinos, announced by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Philda Kereng which wormed into the international media before the President knew about it.

The Office of the President (OP) was last week at pains to explain why Masisi was kept in the dark when this major policy decision was prematurely announced late last month over radio – Yarona FM to be more precise – by Kereng an announcement that was immediately withdrawn as “an error”.

In fact OP almost absolved her from blame for jumping gun.

At a press briefing on January 28 upon his return from Davos, where he had attended the World Economic Forum, Masisi was not privy to the finer details of the decision to dehorn rhinos.

“The President will be briefed within existing protocols on which strategies the Ministry [Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism] is going to implement; and in some cases he may be briefed after the fact, once a firm decision has been taken by the Ministry in collaboration with key stakeholders, as to which combination of strategies could be implemented,” government spokesman Andrew Sesinyi said in a written response to questions by The Sunday Standard.

“His Excellency the President indicated in his response [at a press briefing] that he was yet to be updated on the ongoing policy developments regarding the issue. Honourable Minister Kereng as the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, under which the implementing Department of Wildlife and National Parks falls, was responding within the technical parameters under the Ministry’s control,” Sesinyi said.

Map Ives, regarded as a rhino expert, who fed the international media the story but still refused to be engaged by the local media for further clarity, told the Times of London he is helping the government of Botswana to implement its emergency plan to dehorn rhinos amid a spike in poaching.

“I agree with the strategy, but not wholeheartedly. The onslaught is severe and we are up against very organised, dangerous professional operatives with all the resources and weapons they need.”

“The radical plan has been settled on by wildlife officials who fear that the species will soon be locally extinct for the third time in the country’s history if poaching trends continue. The contentious scheme was made public, apparently in error, in a radio interview by Philda Kereng, the Environment Minister. Giving advance notice about dehorning can panic poachers to try to reach the rhinos first, so rangers and vets are now scrambling to track, sedate and dehorn the most vulnerable animals in killing hotspots. Map Ives, Botswana’s leading rhino expert, is helping to implement the government’s emergency plan….” The Times reported.

Ives told The Sunday Standard reporters that he only speaks to publications that report accurately, are credible and honest and that this publication does not match the level hence his decision to open up to The Times of London only.

The government has refused to disclose the rhino population statistics (both black and white) in Botswana.

“We cannot release such statistics for the security and protection of the rhinos and our personnel,” said Sesinyi.

Be that as it may, Ives’ Rhino Conservation Botswana, which has British Prince Harry as its patron, claims that between 2007 and 2017 six rhinos were killed for their horns with a further claim that in the past year the government confirmed that about 30 black and white rhinos have been lost from a population of approximately 300 with some conservationists claiming the actual death toll is far higher.

“For those emotionally involved in this project [dehorning rhinos], the last year has been horrific,” he was quoted as having said.

What is Map Ives’ role in all this major policy decision and its implementation?

Government says Ives happens to be the Director of Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB, an NGO which together with other NGOs that have been entrusted by government as partners in rhino conservation and monitoring to mobilise funds and resources for rhino conservation and monitoring.

“These resources held on behalf of the country are then used for rhino management and monitoring in Botswana. They work hand in hand with the National Rhino Coordinator, a government officer. Should there be any exercise including rhinoceroses, chances are high that it would be done in collaboration with RCB and other stakeholders.” Sesinyi explains.

Government says it has considered several strategies for addressing the issue of rhino poaching in the country, especially in the delta.

“These strategies include amongst others strengthening intelligence and investigations, improving community relations, reviewing informer rewards, enhancing aerial support, dehorning and translocation of rhinos just to name but a few. The consideration of strategies is an ongoing process that is informed by the situation on the ground,” said Sesinyi.

He said decisions regarding which strategies to implement are made based on scientific knowledge, lessons learnt, as well as other situations that may dictate the need for them.

Is Botswana losing the war against poaching?

“The poaching situation is under control. Current statistics are within allowable and manageable parameters. It is expected worldwide that in wildlife populated areas poaching will occur to some extent. The government of Botswana has considerably stepped up efforts to address poaching of rhinos which had increased and we are beginning to see results. So far seven (7) casualties have occurred, and the bodies remain unclaimed at the hospital in Maun. Last week alone 12 people were arrested. They are currently assisting with investigations. This is testimony that whereas we lost a number of rhinos we are still in control,” said the government spokesman.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.