The fight over elephants’ statistics in Botswana has narrowed down to two men, both Batswana. It is the researcher versus the technocrat, Dr Michael Chase, the founder and director of Elephants Without Borders (EWB) from Kasane in Chobe versus Thato Raphaka, Permanent Secretary in Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism from the government enclave in Gaborone. Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES reports.
Government has denied Dr Chase an extension of a research permit, Mmegi has learnt. The government turned down his permit extension request in a letter from the Ministry and signed by Raphaka, dated December 17, 2018.
Chase shot to controversy last September after an explosive BBC report claiming that EWB counted 87 poached elephant carcasses in northern Botswana near a wildlife sanctuary.
Chase had requested to renew the research permit on “The Population Status and Spatial Ecology of Large Herbivores in Northern Botswana” that allowed him to do surveys on elephants and other animals.
In response Raphaka, who has been a star in government’s defence against “elephants fake news”, wrote to Chase saying: “In reaching this decision (denial of permit) we not only considered the timeliness of progress reports, but also evaluated outputs against research objectives as envisioned in the project proposal tendered at the time of the original permit’s request”.
The PS also added: “It is evident from our review that some of the objectives were either not attempted at all or inadequately addressed”.
Raphaka further advised Chase to wind up on going project activities and submit a final report of his research findings in due course. The move will greatly jeopardise Chase’s and EWB research work in Botswana.
Meanwhile, Mmegi has learnt that EWB submitted their Dry Season Aerial Survey of Elephants and Wildlife in Northern Botswana on January 7, 2019.
On Monday, three days after the Cabinet Sub Committee on Hunting Ban Social Dialogue presented their recommendations to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, the BBC published a report saying “Botswana elephant poaching ‘no hoax’”. Although the report was still confidential and Chase was instructed not to disseminate it, or discuss its contents with public without the approval of government, the BBC last week reported that they had seen it. The British broadcaster did not acknowledge their source.
Chase through a statement in the EWB website said: “On the 8 January 2019, with full press accreditation from the Office of the President, the BBC came to film their story. On the 10 January, I received a letter from GoB regarding EWB’s Survey Report which states: ‘no person or organisation shall be authorised to either disseminate, discuss its contents let alone anything related thereto’. Ironically, this stipulation contradicted the very permission already provided to the BBC by the relevant authorities. Furthermore, such a demand has never been imposed on any previous survey reports or publications”.
Interestingly, on Saturday prior to the BBC report, Raphaka released a damning press statement announcing government view of EWB survey report titled, “Review Of Elephants Without Borders 2018 Dry Season Aerial Survey Of Elephants And Wildlife In Northern Botswana Report”.
Raphaka highlighted that although his ministry through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) participated in the conduct of the survey, it was not involved in the analysis and report writing. He queried some techniques used in the surveys.
“A review of methodology used in the survey indicates that it is sound and was based on established methodology for flying aerial surveys using transects. We however, have concerns about the blending of several different techniques i.e. sample counts, total counts and reconnaissance flights. The rationale for this is not well explained and we would have expected the authors to provide the raw data as is standard practice to the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group (AESG), the foremost authority on continental elephant numbers so that it can be independently assessed,” said Raphaka.
Raphaka also said the report on the number of elephants contradicts Chase BBC statements in September 2018.
“It is regrettable that Dr Chase, in a report purporting to be scientific, includes an astonishing number of pictures of dead elephants, 63 pages to be precise. This is definitely not standard practice in aerial survey report writing. By their own admission, only a portion of all carcasses observed during the aerial survey was verified by helicopter. The authors report that only 33 out of a total of 128 suspected poaching events were actually confirmed by ground verification,” said Raphaka.
The PS also questioned EWB concerns while their numbers clearly shows that the carcass ratio is only slightly higher than that of 2014. “Another interesting point is that the authors reported a carcass ratio of two percent in 2010 and seven percent in 2014, with 8.1% reported for 2018. The 2014 figure is almost four times higher than the 2010 figure, but the authors did not sound the alarm at the time. Instead at that time, the authors considered Botswana an elephant safe haven. Surely, greater concerns should have been expressed after their 2014 survey than now when the ratio is only slightly higher,” wrote the PS.
Chase in his response was still adamant saying, “Elephant poaching in Botswana is happening on the scale I proclaim. By continually denying the extent of poaching, we might be undermining international support”.
Raphaka challenged Chase to “immediately submit their raw data to International Union for Conservation of Nature African Elephant Specialist Group for further independent review in the interest of transparency”.