Two University of Botswana (UB) academics have argued that the controversial ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy is a legitimate conservation strategy.
In one of their journal articles, their commentary piece reflects on the efficacy of Botswana’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, its effects on communities neighbouring parks, and on cross-border relations. “It asks whether this policy should be adopted by other Southern African states, particularly South Africa, to combat poaching,” they write in their commentary piece contributing to the debate on green militarisation.
The authors are Goemeone Mogomotsi, a legal officer in the Department of Legal Services at UB and Patricia Madigele, a research scholar specialising in Environmental Resources Economics at the Okavango Research Institute, UB, where she coordinates the sustainable tourism programme. Their journal article titled ‘Live by the gun, die by the gun’: Botswana’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy as an anti-poaching strategy’ was published in the South African Crime Quarterly last month.
“Rhino and elephant poaching affects various Southern African countries. Despite recent reductions in rhino poaching in Namibia and South Africa, it remains a concern. In response, the government of Botswana has implemented a controversial ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, targeting poachers. We believe this has reduced poaching in Botswana, relative to most African countries. Private rhino conservators from neighbouring South Africa have relocated some of their rhinos to Botswana. This commentary piece discusses the militarisation of conservation as a viable conservation policy.”
The article argues that anti-poaching is comparable to the war on terror. It reviews Botswana’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy and its justification in international law, specifically with regard to war and armed combat.
It adopts an exploratory methodology to reflect on the effectiveness of Botswana’s policy, and considers whether it can be adopted by other countries, particularly South Africa, to combat poaching. It concludes that ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy is an effective deterrence to poachers when implemented alongside long-term conservation management interventions.
In northern Botswana, where most of the country’s wildlife is found, rural communities derive benefits such as cash income, employment in the wildlife industry, hunting and food from wildlife.
However, studies in northern Botswana indicate that these communities still have negative attitudes towards wildlife and conservation institutions. In their view, this is due to poorly managed human–wildlife conflicts, and rural communities’ belief that government prioritises conservation over human welfare.
The adoption of green militarisation in the form of the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy has created tension in northern Botswana, where communities have complained of frequent raids by the Botswana Defence Force.
Nonetheless, the authors believe these militarised responses effectively reduce poaching. “For instance, Botswana had 1.12%
They believe that the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy indicates that government considers poaching an act of war. “In Botswana, the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy is arguably justified in terms of Section 4(2)(d) of the Constitution, which provides that a person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his or her life in contravention of Section 4(1) of the Constitution if he or she dies in order to prevent the commission by that person of a criminal offence, or if he or she dies as the result of a lawful act of war.” They argue that: “We believe that a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy is the only anti-poaching method that clearly signals that wild animals deserve to live”.
South Africa is home to the largest population of rhinos in the world and is a poaching hot spot. This has forced the relocation of some wildlife to Botswana and Australia for safekeeping.
Notwithstanding the high numbers of poachers arrested in South Africa, prosecution remains a challenge. Most apprehended poachers are acquitted. Where poachers are convicted, they are mainly low level rather than kingpins.
“In light of the above, South Africa is encouraged to seriously consider the adoption and implementation of Botswana’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. It is our view that the current generation has a duty to protect rhinos and safeguard them from possible extinction… Despite the reservations of some, we argue that Botswana’s impressive elephant and rhino conservation record is due to its ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, which deters poachers.
“This commentary does not discuss the rule of law or human rights perspectives related to ‘shoot-to-kill’ in significant detail, nor does it discount the usefulness of other conservation methods. However, it argues that for those methods to be effective, they should be implemented alongside the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy.”
They implore the government of South Africa to implement the SADC resolution on the adoption of a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy.
In conclusion they argue that the only thing Botswana is doing differently to South Africa is to use the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy.
“We believe that Botswana has demonstrated that its policies, especially the ‘shoot-to-kill’, deters poachers in general and rhino poachers specifically.”