Poaching along the Okavango Delta has reached unprecedented levels, the minister of Environment, Natural resources, conservation, and Tourism, Fildah Kereng has said.
Responding to a parliamentary question last week Thursday, Kereng noted that from April 2018 until December last year an estimated total of thirty-six (36) rhinos and eleven elephants were poached.
“In terms of the numbers of rhinos and elephants poached during the period in question, it suffices to inform this honourable house that the ministry has experienced a decline in the poaching of elephants as poachers tended to focus on rhinos due to the high demand of the rhino horn in far East Asia,” Kereng explained.
However in June, the director of wildlife and national parks, in the same ministry, Cyril Taolo confirmed that at least 56 rhinos were poached in the past two years.
Nonetheless, minister Kereng maintains that Batswana are working in cahoots with foreigners to poach these animals for their horns, which in the illicit market are said to be one of the highest paying businesses, even more than some minerals and drugs.
“Let me explain that it is a network and syndicate of both Batswana and foreigners. They work together so that they can enter into this country and poach animals as well to sell in their respective countries. It is a network that involves Botswana and other countries,” Kereng noted.
The government decided to curb poaching by moving the rhinos deeper into hard to reach areas within the Delta early this year. The also started dehorning the animals as the horn is what poachers are after.
Although some members of Parliament expressed concern that the dehorning takes away the animals defence and that their deformed state may not interest tourists who largely contribute to the country’s economy, Kereng argued that there was no need to worry because the horns would have grown back by the time the tourism sector makes a come back at the end of COVID-19 pandemic.
“After de-horning, the horn grows back, same as a nail. When the tourism sector re-opens, tourists are going to find our rhinos with horns.”
The minister further contended that in the meantime her ministry is coming up with more strategies on combating poaching including a plan to re-arm the department of wildlife and national parks.
Currently, the Delta is being policed by Botswana Defence Force and according to Kereng by the country’s top intelligence unit, Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS).
Kereng also said that the country’s collaboration with neighboring countries in fighting poaching was also paying off. “Poachers that we arrested not so long ago were heading towards Malawi,” she revealed.
Botswana is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) programme which is a collaboration of countries that shares borders such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Angola.
According to the minister, this Southern African programme was set up so that the countries can enter into agreements on issues of security, “This has enabled us to come up with strategies on how we can protect our wildlife through monitoring and restricting the movement of poachers from entering our countries. We also assess our level of preparedness at all the borders and we realised that it is working for us since we managed to arrest those who were heading towards Malawi,” the minister noted.