Global leaders, policymakers and experts from at least 40 countries are meeting in Kasane for the planetâ€™s highest profile conference on the prevention of illegal trade in wildlife.
The conference – the second of its kind after the inaugural event in London – is appropriately being held in Botswana, one of the world’s toughest addresses for poachers.
With a ‘shoot-on-sight’ policy for armed, combative poachers, a two-year-old hunting ban and a P48 million militarised Rhino squad currently in training, Botswana is widely and correctly regarded as one of the few safe havens for endangered wildlife in Africa. At present, Botswana boasts the largest elephant population in the world and is receiving rhinos for protection from South Africa, where 1,200 were killed last year.
As Environment Minister, Tshekedi Khama, has noted, this phenomenal success is even more incredible given the paucity of international funding and sponsorship Botswana receives due to its status as a middle-income country.
The meetings taking place in Kasane offer an opportunity for Botswana to shine as a sparkling example of how anti-poaching should be done.
However, they are also an opportunity for global leaders, policymakers and experts to remind themselves about what lies at the heart of the fight against illegal wildlife trade – communities.
Protecting wildlife species and keeping the environment pristine, attracts tourists who in turn benefit not only the surrounding communities who frequently hold the concessions, but the micro-economies of nearby villages and settlements. The national economy benefits through economic activity in sectors such as travel, tourism, hospitality, financial services and many others.
Communities benefit from direct and indirect employment that occurs as a result of travel, tourism and hospitality activities linked to the preservation of wildlife in its natural God-given environment. And additionally, as Khama says, future generations should not find rhinos extinct and prehistoric creatures that once existed gone or desecrated. They must see the rhinos and the historic sites because of the good preservation work done by the current generation.
In this light, it is appalling that across our continents, some of the countries receiving the greatest international support and funding for anti-poaching, also have the weakest political willpower and the highest poaching rates. The Kasane meetings need to brainstorm on this illogicality and act to enhance political willpower, demilitarise poachers and their syndicates and clamp down on the markets for poached animals and animal parts.
As bright as Botswana shines as a wildlife safe haven, our heartland cannot be Noah’s Ark and provide shelter to every fleeing elephant and rhino on our continent. Others have to stand to be counted in the preservation efforts.