There is a current surge of poaching in Botswana. Large mammals are the targets – elephants, giraffes and buffaloes – and the reasons for the poaching are for meat as much as it is for ivory. One researcher claimed that 600 tonnes of game meat had been exported from the Gcwihaba Hills area alone. Another stated he believed the real tonnage is, altogether, very much bigger. Whatever it is, please understand, this is just the beginning!
Some elephants have been killed for their ivory and several local tribespeoples have been detained for questioning because they have been found in possession of freshly procured elephant tusks. And several elephant carcasses have been found without their ivory – for which no arrests have been made.
One must ask the question: Why is this taking place now after Botswana has had such a good record for so many years when poaching incidents were very few. THAT was the case was before 2104. So what happened before 2014; and what happened during 2014 to effect the change?.
Prior to 2014, big game hunting safaris in Botswana had been big business for the tourism industry for many decades. Despite fears from the anti-hunting animal rightists, elephants and other big game animals continued to increase in number and the quality of their trophies remained consistently high. This was indicative of the fact that the hunting take-off was not adversely affecting the animals’ genetic makeup at all.
The hunting safari industry employed a lot of local people who benefited in many ways; from jobs created and good salaries; from the provision of meat from trophy animal kills – delivered by tractor and trailer right into the village environs; and from a consistent supply of potable bore-holed water supplies which were all created and maintained by the hunting safari outfitters at their expense. The very presence of hunting safari vehicles traversing the terrain, and of the paying hunting clients, their accompanying professional hunters and their trackers, walking all over the place on foot, in pursuit of top-of-the-range trophy animals to hunt, was a great deterrent to poaching. Poaching of anything during that era was an exceptional event.
Then in 2014, Ian Khama, President of Botswana, was persuaded by his animal rightist friends, that all hunting should be stopped and that the country should concentrate, instead, on photographic safaris. He was informed by these, his friends, that allowing hunting safaris to be conducted in the country, at all, was very bad publicity for overseas photographic tourism; and he was told that hunting safaris and photographic safaris could and should not mix (which was incorrect advice).
Khama was plied with the idea, and convinced, that photographic safaris would replace hunting safaris easily – once the hunting stopped – which was also incorrect. There are infinitely more places (in the very thick bush and deep inside the country’s extensive teak forests, for example) where – because the circumstances are unfavourable – photographic tourists will never venture. Be that as it may, by presidential decree, the hunting was stopped in 2014 and photographic tourism was promoted in its place.
Suddenly – at the stroke of the president’s pen – many local people were out of jobs; no free meat arrived at the villages; the borehole pumps broke down and were not repaired; and the ever increasing numbers of elephants raided the people’s croplands with impunity.
While rural communities lost millions of dollars (Botswana Pula) in income, annually, and they appealed to the government to reinstate the hunting. The government ignored their pleas. And the people became very angry. In this process, the government lost the rural people’s support in its anti-poaching war, because the village hunters, for years, had been the country’s front line defence against the poachers.
So, the people, to survive, have now begun poaching “their own” wild animals. Gone is all their respect for government and the law. They simply do their own thing. And this new syndrome has only just begun. It is going to get worse and worse as the communities learn how best to hide their poaching endeavours from the authorities; as each community starts to help its neighbours to also avoid detection; and as the lynch-pins in the local village mafia find more and better markets for their contraband.
Botswana has always relied on the military to ward off foreign poachers. Very soon, however, the army is going to be fighting Botswana’s own communities – en masse. THIS is not how to fight a war – against your own people – or to win over the hearts and minds of the country’s people. Such is not a legitimate fight.
All this has happened because the government of the day – represented by the President himself – has demonstrated that he cares less for the needs of his own people than he does for the opinions of his animal rightist friends and anti-hunting photographic safari outfitters who, for doctrinaire reasons alone, are against the use of hunting as a wildlife management tool. And it is not that the hunting makes the numbers of animals any less. There are enough to satisfy the needs of everybody concerned. Furthermore, the elephant numbers are going up all the time in Botswana.
And photographic safaris CAN work in tandem (but not overlapping) with hunting safaris.
So, if the government of Botswana wants to stop the dangerous escalation of poaching that is taking place in the country at this time, all it has to do is to return to the general wildlife management practices it promoted and permitted prior to 2014. They worked well then and they will work well again now if the people’s legitimate “needs” are being satisfied.
If on the other hand, the government of Botswana wants to lose all its wildlife, and if it wants to lose the TOTAL support of its rural people, all it has to do is to start beating the village hunters (the new era poachers) with an ever bigger stick. THAT will NOT stop the poaching – because the people STILL have to survive – but it will get the people even angrier than they already are; and I predict that – should the government NOT return to pre-2104 wildlife management practices – the poaching trend that has just begun will soon get out of hand.
This is a very good example of what happens when animal rights elements start interfering with the management of wildlife sanctuaries – of which they know nothing at all – and when governments succumb to the overtures of such people for reasons of political expediency.