Great sadness for Botswana
10th November, 2021

Today, the last two introduced white rhinos at Mombo are being captured and moved to a sanctuary.

It is maybe the last toll of the bell for Botswana’s enthusiastic programme to re-introduce rhinos to the nation. Of course, all the rhinos were purchased, donated, sent to a “safe haven” by owners in South Africa. Years and millions were invested in this latest Botswana rhino re-introduction plan.

It all seemed to be going well. Until the “mattress” poachers arrived.

I call them that as some poachers would buy inflatable mattresses in Namibia and then cross the Okavango Delta’s waterways to do their worst. So simple, so “low tech”, and seemingly undefeatable despite “efforts” by the well-equipped Botswana defence force (army).

Within a short amount of time, all those rhinos acquired by whatever means and promised to have a good life in “safe” Botswana were annihilated. Some poachers were even able to establish “semi -permanent” camps in the Delta, and were re-supplied by their mattress navy.

Doubtless these inflatable vessel sailors were aided and abetted by locals. Not so easy to find a rhino in the bush unless someone with local knowledge points them out.

Neither the Botswana government nor private rhino NGOs have been forthcoming to tell us the scale of the slaughter. Surprisingly few poachers have been arrested and almost no smuggled rhino horns have been intercepted in Botswana.

Surely the scale of the slaughter must be made public now that there are last ditch efforts underway to remove any rhino survivors from the wild.

Surely the Botswana government has admitted defeat via the mattress poachers and now must undertake a retrospective analysis as to why all went so wrong.

After all, as I mentioned above, millions were invested by private individuals and companies in the re-introduction programmes. The government must now make clear why it was so easy to poach available rhinos.

Officially, the Botswana government would like to claim magnificent success in their anti-poaching programmes. Surely they have their well-trained army with all resources and technology available to them. Yet a ragtag mattress group was able to run circles around government forces so easily.

And take hugely valuable resources away without much intervention.

Botswana now needs to take a very close look at this latest rhino fiasco. Who were the admirals in charge of the mattress sailors? Who facilitated locally? Why were so few arrests made and so few horns intercepted in what seems like a well-greased smuggling facilitation?

Botswana has many questions to answer. If history is any guide, the government will remain deaf and mute. That strategy seems to have worked well in terms of the “mysterious” death of 700 or more elephants not so long ago, and will doubtless be applied again.

President Masisi said this recently – “Poaching remains the biggest threat to our biodiversity,”

Wildlife director Senyatso said “wildlife-related crimes were down by 70 percent and that the poaching situation was under control.”

Pull the other one Senyatso. Come clean on the rhino poaching tsunami and then publish a clear plan on what forward means there are for those few rhino survivors. Oh, and please tell us why you continue to claim that over 700 elephants died “mysteriously”?

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