The Director of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Dr Oduetse Kobotwe has remained tight-lipped about the illegal smuggling of predators and wildlife in the Southern Kgalagadi District.
Mmegi sent Kobotwe a questionnaire three weeks ago.Bringing DWNP on record about the ongoing smuggling, exportation and importation of predators between Botswana and South Africa, is akin to trying to squeeze blood out of a stone. Mmegi could not get any response from the department about individuals who have licences to import, export and keep lions and cheetahs in their game farms. Mmegi investigations have turned up a report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which suggests that live lions legally exported from Botswana to South Africa between 2000 and 2011 totaled 45, 19 by 2001 and 27 in 2011. Live lions imported from South Africa to Botswana totaled 63 within the same period with 2008 seeing 29 lions imported.
Sources have revealed that all lions from South Africa are animals travelling to and from Botswana listed as "circus and travelling exhibitions". In other words, they did not stay in Botswana but only here for a short time. The strange reality is that a lot of South African circuses do not operate in Botswana as frequent as these export-import reports happen, which could mean that the 'circus' might be used as a cover up to move live lions between the two countries.The live lions exported from Botswana to South Africa fell into the following categories:
2000 - 14 lions from a captive origin exported to South Africa for commercial purposes
2001 - 4 lions exported from a wild origin exported to South Africa for commercial purposes2011 - 27 lions exported from a captive origin in Botswana for the purpose of "breeding" in South Africa.
Mmegi's questionnaire to the DWNP sought to determine if these "circus and travelling exhibit" lions did indeed all enter and then leave Botswana or whether they are now part of a captive breeding population in Botswana, stuck somewhere among wildlife principals, government public relations bureaus and other high offices. Mmegi requested to know whom the exporter of the 27 lions sent to South Africa for "breeding" purposes was, since DWNP is the one that issues all the export-import permits. However, Mmegi sources allege that the lions may
Mmegi questionnaire also sought to establish the status of poaching and predator smuggling in the Kgalagadi and Gantsi Districts from the DWNP records.DWNP failed to reveal the type and duration of operations they have in place to curb predator smuggling.DWNP could not disclose to Mmegi the number of people arraigned so far on predator smuggling charges and their sentences. The wildlife department could not account for the role of game ranchers in Kgalagadi and Gantsi and whether they (DWNP) had determined their contribution in the predator smuggling trade.Mmegi could not bring DWNP on record about how efficient their officers are in combating these crimes and finding evidence against culprits. It has emerged, according to court records in some districts, that such criminals get scot-free for lack of evidence.
The Mmegi questionnaire further sought to find out if DWNP has ever issued any export permits to either Batswana or non-citizens, for lions and cheetahs to South Africa or anywhere in the world since 2006, and the number of such permits issued to date.DWNP could not disclose specific destinations (ranches) and owners where the exported lions and cheetahs were headed.The department could not even reveal disease control measures in place regarding predator imports from outside Botswana.After three weeks of continuously asking the DWNP to respond to the questionnaire, Dr Kobotwe informed Mmegi that his office has attended to the questionnaire but it was stuck with the permanent secretary of the ministry."We apologise for failing to meet your deadlines. I know it has been long overdue but we are doing the best we can to get it from the permanent secretary's office. There is no need to consult with the minister since we are dealing with the questions," he said.