Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Senyatso is the new broom at Wildlife

A Conservation Biologist takes over the reins of the embattled Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) as a Director effective the first of next month. 

Dr Kabelo Jacob Senyatso takes over at a time when the Department faces challenges of poaching, elephants’ mysterious mortalities and human/wildlife conflict. 

He will not be new to the wild life management entity as his appointment comes two years after he retired from Birdlife Botswana where he was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) from 2007 to 2018.

He told Sunday Standard that beyond the guidance by President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, Minister Philda Kereng and the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism (MENT) leadership, he harbors ideas for the department’s road map.

Among others are: how to improve beneficiation of wildlife to the Botswana economy; how to use the protected area network and the wildlife resource to create sustainable and green jobs; and how to mobilize more Batswana to better benefit from and appreciate the wildlife resource, and consequently assist the department in combating poaching and illegal wildlife trade, as well as co-generate with them solutions to challenges such as human-wildlife conflicts. 

However, before putting his thoughts to action, he will embark on an extensive internal consultation within the department and MENT, and thereafter within the broader central and local government, as well as external partners in the private sector, local communities, International Cooperating Partners (ICPs) and other Interested and Affected Parties (IAPs) within and outside Botswana. 

“Of course I am mindful of the risks posed by Covid 19, which has the potential to derail not only wildlife conservation targets, but all our development targets as mapped in long-term strategic documents such as NDP 11 and Vision 2036 – so this means that at all steps, my road-map for the department will have to be continually adjusted to the realities imposed by Covid 19,” said Dr Senyatso. He envisages his consultations to be concluded by end of October, 2020.

On information dissemination the Biologist said; “I am a firm believer in communication! Consequently, I do plan to resuscitate, revamp and capacitate structures within the department that would enable us to regularly and pro-actively keep Batswana informed of their natural heritage.”

He added that  similarly, it is crucial that the department’s communication channels keep the international community abreast of developments within Botswana, so that where they could lend a hand they could do so as quickly as is possible, on the basis of factual information and not disinformation that is very common across the world in more recent times

He emphasizes that poaching is a crime, and his intent would be to ensure that this message is communicated and the applicable legal instruments are used by all affected parties – local communities, the police, prosecutors, judiciary, and law makers

He said it is also crucial for them as wildlife managers to understand the drivers of both commercial and subsistence poaching, because it is only when they understand these drivers that they can develop targeted interventions.

And so he looks forward to working with multi-disciplinary teams of researchers to help them better understand patterns, trends, motivations, routes to market, and so forth; for both commercial and subsistence poaching, following which they would be better placed to better target their limited resources to addressing the poaching threat.

“As for human-wildlife conflict, again this is a multi-faceted issue whose roots come from primarily encroachment of wildlife into human settled areas, or humans into wildlife areas. Consequently, the solution to this problem revolves around finding why people, or wildlife, are encroaching, and then devising responsive measures,” said Senyatso.

“For instance, we have had instances where agricultural activities – notably pastoral farming – has encroached into Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), which has led to increased incidences of livestock being killed by mammalian carnivores,” he said.

However, he observed, in other parts of Botswana, it is widely acknowledged that elephants have in the recent past moved out of wildlife areas into villages and arable areas, damaging people’s infrastructure, eating their crops and sometimes causing human injuries or death. In this case, the questions that have to be answered to help us resolve this challenge revolve around how we achieve co-existence; this is not easy, because the specific peculiarities of each incident need to be considered so that a localized solution is found. However, at large-spatial scales, approaches such as Transfrontiner Conservation Areas(TCAs) offer opportunities to reduce elephant densities by enabling these animals to use more wilderness areas in neighboring countries, instead of expanding into more densely populated areas of Botswana. 

Dr Senyatso underpinned that tourism remains the best vehicle to enable Batswana to derive maximum benefits from the wildlife resource. However, Covid 19 has revealed some short-comings with some of the tourism models Botswana has used thus far, which overly relied on international tourists. There is therefore a need to develop more tourism models that open up Botswana’s protected areas to local tourism – and this is something he hopes to pursue with vigor because other than support tourism, it would also create jobs not only within the tourism sector but also in the sectors that support it like travel, logistics, food production, cleaning services, fuel supply, retail and so forth.

His road map thus ambitious, his qualifications come handy for the litmus test. He in 2001 graduated with BSC-Biology single major, from the University of Botswana where his thesis was: Efficacy of wood ash extracts in controlling common post-harvest insect pests in Botswana

He went further and in 2004 graduated with MSc. in Conservation Biology from Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa on thesis titled: Applicability of the IUCN Red List criteria at a regional level: A case study of birds in Botswana.

Then he graduated with PhD at the University of East Anglia (UEA), United Kingdom in 2007. His Thesis: Conserving widely distributed wildlife species in an African savanna: parks, cattle-grazing and community-managed areas. 

Experience-wise, Dr Senyatso is an environmental and rural development specialist with wide experience in environmental management, monitoring and evaluation (M&E); programme and project management; concept development/feasibility studies, development/drafting of strategic planning documents and facilitation of community-based businesses, who has 19 years’ post-graduate work experience.

A member of Botswana Environmental Impact Assessment Practitioners (BEAPA, Dr Senyatso has been recruited from his company, Fikifeather (Pty) Ltd where he was Lead Consultant. The company has done environmental assessments since 2005, and was registered with BEAPA as an Environmental Assessment practitioner in 2015, with over 50 environmental assessments across a variety of projects completed to date.

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