Botswana fights rise in rhino poaching cases

The chickens returned to roost just four years after President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s misguided decision to disarm the anti-poaching unit.

The poachers have won the battle as the Botswana government recognizes its defeat in its relentless fight against rhino poachers who have killed at least 100 animals in the past three years.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) made the decision to move the animals to an unspecified location in the North West District of Botswana to protect them from poachers.

Speaking to Sunday Standard last Friday, DWNP director Dr Kabelo Senyatso confirmed the relocation but declined to share specific information about the “security” concerns.

“I cannot disclose the site (relocation site). An announcement will be made at the appropriate time, ”he said.

The rhino poaching situation in Botswana is such that the government considers it a threat to release information on the population of the endangered species.

“This is sensitive information to be disclosed for public consumption as it would be easily used by poachers,” he said when the publication asked him about the number of rhinos remaining.

Senyatso would not share the number to be relocated either, calling it operational and sensitive information that he could disclose. The wildlife director also declined to share statistics on the number of rhinos poached so far in 2021, except to say that they would issue a press release “shortly” on the subject.

Responding to questions from the Sunday Standard about their dehorning exercise, the director said that due to the high number of incidents and the number of rhino poaching in the North West District, the DWNP made the decision to strip its rhino population in natural wildlife areas and some in protected areas of Ngamiland.

“During a dedicated exercise from March to May 2020, a significant proportion of the animals were dehorned. I cannot disclose how many animals this translates to as this is operational information. In addition, other animals have been opportunistically dehorned since then, ”he said.

Poaching has escalated over the past three years following the government’s 2018 decision to disarm the DWNP anti-poaching unit. The 100+ rhinos poached since disarmament represent a more than 100% increase in poaching incidents compared to the previous three years, when Botswana lost one rhino per year in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when the unit had weapons fire. There were at least 12 rhinos poached in 2018, 29 rhinos in 2019 and more than 50 poached by the end of 2020.

The war on poachers has been waged since 2018 by the Botswana Defense Force which has killed at least 24 poachers to date.

As part of their efforts to deter poaching, the government decided to skin the rhinos, but the exercise did little (if anything) to stop the attack as poachers reportedly started killing animals dehorned in frustration.

Sunday Standard reported earlier this year how some poachers would have been happy to pick up the heels left after dehorning on a mission to at least retrieve something from the animals.

They were also reported to ruthlessly slaughter calves without many horns. Based on the number of rhinos poached since 2018, the government’s decision to disarm the anti-poaching unit three years ago has had a devastating effect on the fight against rhino and elephant poaching.

While the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) have achieved relatively modest victories in killing poachers over the past two years, the efforts appear paltry compared to the number of reported cases of rhino poaching in recent years.

As the government lifted the ban on trophy hunting in 2020, elephant poaching is also said to be on the rise and with the imminent relocation of rhinos the numbers are expected to rise, presenting another headache for the DWNP and the troops. fighter in the fight against poaching. front lines.

Despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to the alarming reduction in the endangered rhino population, the government does not seem in a rush to reverse the decision to disarm the DWNP anti-poaching unit.

The government had continued to refuse to admit the true extent of the damage caused by the decision to disarm the rangers.

Expressing the government’s refusal to heed the call to rearm game wardens, Tourism Minister Philda Kereng said earlier this year that efforts were underway to address legislative loopholes which, according to they forced the (anti-poaching) unit to transport semi-trailers. -automatic necessary for the performance of their duties.

She said her ministry was aware of the need to equip the Anti-Poaching Unit with adequate resources, but would wait to table a proposed legislation at a later stage.

This despite evidence that there is already legislation that allows the Unit to bear the necessary weapons. Botswana, long cherished by the world of wildlife conservation, seems to have eased the conservation pedal. It remains to be seen how this will affect wildlife tourism in the years to come.

This article is reproduced here as part of the Space for giants African Conservation Journalism Program, supported by the majority shareholder of ESI Media, which includes It aims to expand the reach of conservation and environment journalism in Africa and to engage more African voices in the international conservation debate. Read the original story here.

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