A reaction by conservation interests to a parliamentary motion for government to consider a review of the ban on hunting is likely to be the root cause of the recent public controversy on the elephant situation in Botswana, Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, Dr Unity Dow has said.

Dr Dow, who was addressing a press conference in Gaborone yesterday, reiterated that Botswana was committed to the conservation of wildlife species. She noted that a large part of the country was set aside for the preservation of wildlife and the ecological system.

She said the issue of Botswana’s alleged elephant poaching crisis going international had to do with potentially ulterior motives.

“This year in June a debate was started in Parliament and a majority of the legislators supported the motion for the executive to consider lifting the hunting ban.

Thereafter consultations began and the position of Elephants Without Borders (EWB) is that they are totally against elephant hunting altogether, a reasonable position, but just one position among many. The strategy of EWB was then to focus the attention of the local and international public on the issue of elephants,” Dr Dow said.

She said while it was true that elephants had died in the country, it was something which concerned government since “one elephant dead is one too many,” she said.

“It is a crime to poach elephants and this crime has been committed in the past, 81 died last year. The focus was not on whether there has been poaching; this issue was used to pursue a particular story.

Another truth was told that the anti-poaching unit of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) was disarmed of automatic weapons. But there were untold truths; that elephants had been killed in other years, and that the process of arming a non-defence or non-policing function such as the DWNP with automatic weapons, whether it had been regular,” Dr Dow said.

She explained that the DWNP had always been allowed to possess rifles in order to deal with problem animals and upon realising that the governing processes required for the carrying of automatic weapons had not been followed the government disarmed the department of such weaponry.

“We have the army that is assigned to patrol the national parks and other areas that are high risks for poachers, and the call should have been to expand the army, make sure there are more army officers to ensure greater safety against poaching instead of calling to rearm the wildlife department,” she said.

Dr Dow said EWB should have joined the conversation on what should be best in terms of considering the banning of hunting.

“In March 29 this year, EWB was given P3.8 million by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, P600 000 for nursing three orphaned baby elephants and a further P2.8 million to survey the elephant population in the country.

They should have come back to the ministry,

“EWB is a non-governmental organisation. Their job is to have a cause, but the government has to consider all voices of different stakeholders before a responsible government can take a policy position,” she said
to a competition of views.[??] There is Tlhokomela Wildlife Trust, an NGO, which has Dr Mike Chase (Director of EWB), as a member; and so is the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Mr Tshekedi Khama, former President Lt Gen Dr Ian Khama and Ms Jillian Blackbeard the marketing manager of Botswana Tourism Organisation.

But, for example, Masiela Trust cannot expect their views to be government policy, an NGO has to persuade from outside. Going forward, we are saying let us separate the public from the private,” Dr Dow said.

For his part, Minister Khama said going forward such corporate governance issues could be considered, but said the EWB tender award had to do with their prior experience in conducting elephant census elsewhere.

“The chair of Tlhokomela Trust is Mr Balisi Banyongo of Debswana, and the Dr Chase being with Tlhokomela did not inform the awarding of the tender to EWB; it had to do with the expression of interest floated by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, and I would assume the award had to do with the experience of Dr Chase having flown around Africa conducting similar elephant census,” Mr Khama said. BOPA