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Botswana banks on fierce reputation as anti-poaching funds shrink

MBONGENI MGUNI
Botswana has become the final frontier for the continent's last free roaming rhinos
Anti-poaching activities have not been spared in the Government-wide spending cuts in the current and upcoming financial years. However, environment minister, Tshekedi Khama has an ace up his sleeve: the country’s reputation of helping poachers meet their Maker. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports

With 200 rhinos awaiting translocation to the safe haven and final frontier that is Botswana, Budget cuts in anti-poaching could not have come at a worse time.  In the group waiting to come over are 40 black rhinos, the beasts that were declared extinct in Botswana in 1992, with only a few existing today in conservation parks.

For the upcoming financial year, which begins on April 1, 2017 the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism’s development budget has been slashed from P213 million to P165 million.

Its recurrent budget, under which anti-poaching activities take place, has marginally increased from P615 million to P617 million.

The situation has left Tshekedi Khama, popularly known as TK, unimpressed. “Climate change, which has an effect on animals and people, means our activities on the ground have increased,” he tells Mmegi at his Main Mall headquarters.“ Animals are now going into areas they were never seen before. “Mitigating climate change means more budget and that’s what a normal person would think.”

The ministry’s celebrated Rhino Squad, set up in 2014 as a crack unit armed with intelligence, military skills and equipment, has also been affected. Regular patrols were recently suspended after the ministry ran out of funds for fuel, resulting in the Central Transport Organisation cutting supplies over a P4 million debt.

“We have so much equipment for anti-poaching, but it does not have fuel,” Khama says. “The equipment should not be in a museum. What’s the logic of not capacitating the programme?

”If you have given us money to establish the Rhino Squad, it’s going to come with operational costs. This is what happens when you are not aware of various spectrums that we are working with. You will get caught when people say they need more money.

“We are always at war with poachers and we try and do as much as we can, with as little.”

Unlike other countries that enjoy generous funding from international donors for their anti-poaching, Botswana is a victim of its own success.

As well as being a middle-income country, the country’s success in anti-poaching means many would-be donors stand back and expect that the country can fund itself or is not in need of funding.

The situation frustrates Khama.

“It appears you must be

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a little bit reckless to get help.”

The Minister recently led a large contingent to the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) Berlin, the world’s leading travel trade show, where he used the platform to try unlock donor funds. Botswana was a country partner for the event, the first ever from sub-Saharan Africa.

With funds tight for the upcoming year, Khama is counting on the country’s reputation as a “no-go area” for poachers to help keep them at bay. He is hoping the country’s reputation precedes it and to some extent, the strategy has worked.

According to the latest data, the number of poached elephants last year was 36, a massive drop from 84 in 2015. Figures for rhinos are unavailable. In fact, data for the population of rhinos in Botswana is closely guarded as a strategy to repel poachers. The prevailing policy is ‘no nonsense’.

“If you have a reputation or position that’s known to be less than accommodating, people tend to stay away and you hope that people stay away. For the most part, it’s working for us.”

Another strategy in the era of declining funds, is greater empowerment of the community to become the “eyes and ears” of the anti-poaching effort. Through Community Based Natural Resource Management programmes, communities living in and around tourism areas benefit from the concession holders. Besides these, several funds exist for communities to participate in environmental management and other projects, such as the National Environmental Fund, Conservation Trust Fund and Tropical Forest Conservation Fund.

The Rhino Squad and anti-poaching unit within the Department of Wildlife and National Parks are also receiving invaluable assistance from police, prisons, Directorate of Intelligence and Security and the Botswana Defence Force. When the new rhinos start being translocated, Khama says the country will be ready to continue its position as the final frontier for the endangered animals.

“I’m fighting for resources and also fighting poachers. We have to be a step ahead of the people who want to kill these animals.

“We are not beaten. The morale is high and people are committed.

“The trend in numbers is going up and the world is going to realise that there’s a shopping mall called Botswana where we can go and the shelves are full.”



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