Thursday, July 9, 2020

The slaughter of rhinos by poachers at the Okavango Delta is a national shame

A tragedy is unfolding right before our eyes.The killing of Botswana’s rhinos amounts to carnage It is impossible to altogether to stop the killing of animals by poachers.The nation has been left shocked. People cannot believe what they are hearing.

At least 43 rhinos have been killed in 12 months.This number is not only too large but totally unprecedented.As if that it is enough reason for everybody to pause and think.Yet we see attempts to brush it aside as something normal.

And the real number could be much higher because we are talking about only the known rhinos.Other bodies might yet still be discovered.The slaughter of rhinos at the unprecedented scale says something about our current conservation measures.Botswana Government might plead helplessness. But is not helpless.Poaching has been contained and controlled before.What is needed is goodwill. We also need to be more honest to ourselves.

At the moment we have our priorities wrong. We should not play petty politics with the country’s depletable resources.When Botswana Government swiftly seized the guns from Game Scouts a short while ago, everybody was taken aback.The explanation was that this Government was itself addicted to law and would not break the law out of expediency by allowing game scouts to carry guns when they were not empowered to do doing so.The Government did nothing to fill the gap. And it has been over two years since.

Poachers are fully aware of this. And they have fully taken advantage. The result has been bloodbathOf court there were those that vehemently laughed off the government explanation as childish and total out of step with legal interpretation in Botswana.But still many people gave Government the benefit of doubt.Consensus was that Government would immediately regularize and immediately give back guns to Game Scouts.Just for the record, anti-poaching is a highly specialized skill.Botswana should never lose sense of just how much the country has achieved through its conservation efforts.

Complacency on conservation has been Botswana’s biggest downfall.It would be terrible to apportion these achievements to government or any one individual.Conservation achievements are a mirror image of the huge premium that Batswana ascribe to wildlife and the pristine environment in which these animals live and survive.The implications for Botswana as a country and the economy are huge.These animals are an integral component of Botswana’s tourism sector.Tourism in Botswana has astounding cash-generating capabilities.As such it should be nurtured and be protected.At another level, rhino poaching represents a reprehensible risk to Botswana’s national security.

It also presents a threat for people who pay money to visit Botswana tourism areas.Once word goes out about the risks, getting back these tourists will be impossible to achieve.If these underlying issues are not addressed, and addressed sufficiently, Botswana’s tourism and with that the GDP are headed for crushing headwinds.And as such no resources should be spared in fighting this.At another strategic level, we should be careful not to concentrate on attaining that which we aspire at the expense of that which we already have like the rhinos and indeed other animals.Soldiers from the Botswana Defence Force are very resourceful on anti-poaching, as they have been since the earliest of times.But BDF cannot be a replacement for Game Scouts from the Department of Wildlife Anti-Poaching Unit.

The two complement each other – with varying skills and varying capabilities. It is only when they are together on the ground that they both become a real match for the sophisticated and much determined poachers.What has happened is scandalous. It is a disgrace and a shame really.It does not speak well of Botswana.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

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