We were returning to Gaborone from an assignment to investigate the Lumpy Skin cattle disease in Gakuto and Gakgatla when Maranyane Ngwanaamotho and I witnessed the disappearance of yet another cactus species.
I recalled the case of hoodia at the beginning of the 21st Century after its illegal harvesting for export from Botswana. I remembered that the primary school that I went to in the 1980s and the wider area around it was surrounded by innumerable Mokgwapha trees, hence eventually its name, Lekgwapheng Primary School. The ward in which the school is located is also called Lekgwapheng. But today, 17 years later, the name of both ward and school is a crude misnomer in a place where no such tree exists any more.
As we approached Mmanoko from our assignment, we saw a Mazda van packed with cactus trees (mokgwapha), prompting us act. We followed the van for a while, taking pictures as we went, until we decided that BDF headquarters in Mogoditshane was safe enough to flag the van down. Mara and I asked the people in the van if they had a licence to commit such a rape of the environment and the destination of the cargo.
And lo and behold, the three men in the cactus van could not utter a word of Setswana. Not even "Dumela!" We proceeded to do our enquiry in English. One of the men, presumably the 'officer in charge', replied that they had loaded their cargo in Mmokolodi, just south of the capital. We replied that we had been following them for some time on the Molepolole-Gaborone highway. Whereupon the man became instantly annoyed and said we could arrest them if that
And then the rigmarole began: Having decided to call the men's bluff, we stopped two soldiers in an army vehicle and pointed out the offending van. But rather than give chase immediately, the soldiers pointed us to a police officer who was driving what must have been his private car. All the while, the Mazda was driving into the distance, until it was nowhere to be seen.
As this dereliction of duty was going on, Mara was calling 999 from her mobile, giving the info to a certain Moleleki who, thankfully, had answered. We went on our way and decided to 'try' the officer in his private car, who was still on the road.
Superintendent Paul Oketsang proved to be an officer and gentleman. He stopped to give us his full attention and promptly got into action, calling the relevant sources to identify the owner and origin of the offending van. Within five minutes after we parted, he called to confirm the details of the van promised to follow the matter up further. He has since notified the Forestry Department of the incident.
The point is that felling 100 trees of the species is no less harm than mowing down a pride of lions without permission. For the right eco-balance, species of both flora and fauna are crying out for conservation.