Botswana wildlife rangers are likely to be armed following the next sitting of Parliament, which is expected to pass the reviewed wildlife bill into law.
Speaking in an interview this week, director in the department of Wildlife and National Parks, Kabelo Senyatso explained that if things go according to plan, the reviewed act would get thumbs up to improve working conditions of his department.
“The reviewed act is not only about re-arming but rather about the reorganising the entire department. The current act talks to the resource not the organisation so the new act will talk about organisation and within the act there will be a provision that allows rangers to be armed.”
Further Senyatso explained that the act would include capacity, staff allowance and put rangers at par in terms of staff welfare with other security agencies.
“You will appreciate that because of our operations, we are often referred to as para-military and so forth, but we are not and we are not even moving towards that direction, it is only the operations of wildlife rangers that probably make them think that way,” Senyatso added.
He was in fact explaining why his rangers are not armed as opposed to anti poaching units of Botswana Defence Force (BDF).
“We need to put it in context, if you talk about the Okavango Delta and rhinos, our rearming will probably mean nothing to the situation because BDF is the one in charge of the Delta,” added Senyatso.
BDF polices the red zone including the Okavango Delta in terms of guarding wildlife while wildlife rangers take care of less threatened wildlife protected zones including Kgalagadi and the Central District.
“Where there are instances of armed trans-boundary encounters, though they are rare in our operating zones, they (poachers) will find us prepared. When our operatives are armed it could deter poachers as well,” Senyatso noted.
Senyatso could not plainly explain the need to re-arm his rangers now. Seemingly he was more concerned about explaining about the rhinos and BDF more than dwelling on the direct questions about the re-arming of Wildlife rangers.
In 2018 the department was disarmed and according to Senyatso it was because they were prohibited by law to carry the kind of fire arms they were using at the time.
International organisations and local politicians blamed the rising number of poaching incidents, especially in the Delta on the disarming of rangers.
“That’s politicking. Disarming of wildlife officers has nothing to do with rhino poaching because in the first instance BDF is solely responsible for anti poaching in the delta and it has been like that since 2015. Unfortunately questions that are being asked are about changes brought by new regime versus old regime and as you know politics take prominence,” Senyatso explained.
Nonetheless he added that in the meantime a call centre that will bring all security agents responsible for protecting wildlife will soon be operational and it will include, BDF, DIS (Directorate of Intelligence and Security), Wildlife and Police and that the new law will hopefully level the working conditions of these society operatives.