Botswana residents want to be involved in anti-poaching efforts

Caroline Bleakley

By Solomon Tjinyeka for INK 24

Rural communities in Botswana’s Okavango Delta have accused the country’s government of failing to involve them in efforts to combat rampant poaching in the region.

More than 100 rhinos have been shot by poachers in the delta since 2018, and communities in the region say the situation might have been better if the government had involved them in anti-poaching work.

Maun West Constituency Bojanala Councilor Luke Motlaleselo told INK24 that the government’s anti-poaching strategy is being hampered by a lack of community involvement.

He said this may explain why government efforts to combat poaching, particularly of rhinos, remain unsuccessful.

Motlaleselo also said there was no engagement between law enforcement officials and communities in the delta. This, he continued, has made the situation worse as poaching of rhinos and elephants has skyrocketed.

In fact, he said some people have lost hope in conservation and are engaging in illegal activities such as bushmeat hunting to survive. They see no direct benefit from wildlife management, leading some community members to work with the poachers who hunt game in their concession.

The district of Motlaleseselo consists of a number of non-gazette settlements in the delta such as Ditshiping, Xaxaba and Qouxao, which are part of the Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT). OKMCT is the custodian of an area known as the NG 32 Concession, which is home to endangered species including rhino and elephant, which remain targets of poachers in the delta.

Motlaleselelo said he has asked the National Department of Wildlife and National Parks many times to involve the community in anti-poaching activities in the delta as they are the administrators of the concession, but his requests have been denied for “security reasons”. .

Another case of exclusion occurred in 2013 when white rhinos from South Africa were translocated to the Okavango Delta without the knowledge of the residents as the mission was carried out clandestinely.

However, the outspoken councilwoman noted that they don’t necessarily want to know how law enforcement in the area is dealing with poaching. Rather, they want a strategy for community engagement so that people can take responsibility for managing and protecting their natural resources.

He complained that community members are only approached after poaching incidents, when law enforcement officials want their assistance in pursuing poachers. “It’s pointless because the community wouldn’t have known from the start how to be vigilant in identifying poachers,” he said.

Motlaleselelo said there are OKMCT “community leaders” who are mandated to conduct anti-poaching activities in the concession, but they have been ineffective because law enforcement officials do not involve them.

He added that there was hostility towards law enforcement officials as soldiers from the national army, the Botswana Defense Force, were accused of attacking residents and confiscating their fishing nets and boats.

Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the Okavango Research Institute (ORI) stressed that a partnership between government and communities is crucial in tackling poaching.

“That is why the Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) approach was initiated. CBNRM is about involving communities in the management and use of natural resources, and that includes fighting poaching,” he explained, adding that conservation in wildlife sanctuaries cannot succeed without the involvement of local communities.

Mbaiwa stressed that Botswana made a mistake in removing local community involvement from wildlife management, particularly when hunting was suspended in 2014.

He has criticized the centralization of wildlife management, saying it angers local communities, even enticing some former licensed hunters to engage in illegal poaching and supporting hunting gangs from outside the country.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks has not responded to our questionnaire as of press time.

This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism Program funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Run by the international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Read the original story here. Botswana residents want to be involved in anti-poaching efforts

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