Botswana has been rated as one of the best countries in the world in regard to wildlife conservation for sustainable development and this is due to strong political will, says Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama.
Khama says one of the reasons Botswana has been chosen to host the 3rd International Conference on the Illegal Trade of Wildlife in Kasane starting tomorrow is due to the fact that she is a doer rather than idealists when it comes to protection of wildlife. “There is a very committed political will in combating poaching in the country and preventing illegal wildlife trade hence few cases in the country except cross border poachers,” said Khama.
He said Botswana's shoot to kill stance against poachers has deterred most of them from entering the country. “We don’t compromise when it comes to poaching because the poachers too don’t negotiate but shoot to kill,” he said.
One of the resolutions taken during the 2015 London conference was to adopt a zero tolerance policy on corruption associated with the illegal wildlife trade since corruption facilitates criminal activities associated with the illegal wildlife trade.
However Khama has expressed concernt that many countries have a long way to go before they can catch up with Botswana because some senior government officials seem to be involved in the illegal trade of wildlife trade rather than curb it. The outspoken minister said the biggest challenge is that many countries in the region fail to contain poaching, which raises suspicion that some of them may be involved. “How do you explain their reluctance to commit resources in fighting illegal trade in wildlife because some of them have more resources than Botswana to fight it,” he said, adding that they are expecting 48 countries at the conference.
Poachers threatens vultures
In an attempt to evade wildlife authorities and arrest, poachers have now resorted to a new cruel system of killing vultures which are usually circling around dead animals thus alerting authorities if there are any poaching activities going on.
According to Tshekedi Khama, this is a worrying trend and they have engaged all the relevant authorities to combat the problem which is putting the survival of vultures in danger. “Our investigations have shown that poachers use a certain chemical known by the street name ‘two steps’ which is easily available in Francistown and mostly sold by street vendors to lace it on the carcasses of elephants,” said the worried Khama.
Being extremely specialized, the birds are long-lived and reproduce slowly, having only one chick every other year. Vultures have been regarded as one of nature’s most efficient and effective clean-up crew but if situation of killing them is not controlled, the country might lose them, said Khama adding that they have embarked on educating communities about protecting vultures and other endangered birds.
The population of vultures is said to have been declining in the past few years due to unsustainable agriculture, habitat fragmentation and deliberate persecution. Two steps is a banned pesticide known as Aldicarb which is listed as one of the most highly acutely toxic pesticides sold and has the highest acute toxicity ranking under the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s classification. Most people use to kill rats in their houses but the pesticide regarded as most deadly as one strip of Aldicarb is enough to kill six toddlers weighing 10 kilograms or less.
Recently Botswana government came under fire from some fishermen and women near Lake Ngami and Lake Nxau for banning fishing for twelve months due to environmental concerns.
According to Tshekedi, fishing in the two lakes was no longer sustainable and threatened the fish species in the area. “There were serious issues of environmental concerns in the two lakes because there was littering, poor sanitation which polluted the two lakes and we had to take action,” he said.
According to Tshekedi there was also the burning issue of illicit fishing by Zambians and Democratic Republic of Congo nationals at the two lakes. Lake Ngami belongs to a community trust and they were not really benefitting from the fishing business from their lake and that has also to be considered, said Khama. “We were losing as a country because they will buy the fish here at around P4 and sell it at exorbitant prices in their countries. We had to stop fishing as we review the fishing regulations,” said Khama, adding that new regulations will be introduced soon.
Financial leakages in tourism
Financial leakages in tourism occur when revenues arising from tourism-related economic activities in destination countries are not available for (re-)investment or consumption of goods and services in the same countries. Botswana is one of the countries which are mostly affected by financial leakages as most of luxurious lodges in tourist areas as booked overseas or in South Africa. Khama admitted that it is one of the challenges they are facing in the tourism sector in Botswana but noted that there is nothing illegal about it as Botswana is an open economy.
He said that they are actively engaging all the relevant authorities and was adamant that he finds it strange for bookings to be done overseas. “We cannot allow people to run hotels and lodges here but fail to do all the financial transactions here because nowadays one can book online and as such there is no excuse of not doing that in Botswana,” he said.
He conceded that they might not be able to block the financial leakages but will do their level best to ensure the system is reduced in Botswana. According to a research paper conducted by three international partners, the African Development Bank (AFDB), the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released last year, Botswana tourism only 10 percent of the domestic tourism revenue is retained locally whilst the rest is claimed by foreign countries. According to the research paper this is partly to the fact that most of bulk of Botswana’s tourist bookings are handled in South Africa.