Soldiers in illegal ivory trade

SHARE   |   Monday, 20 February 2017   |   By Phillimon Mmeso
Soldiers in illegal ivory trade

some senior members of the disciplined forces are said to have found a niche market for the ivory confiscated from poachers. Investigations unearthed by this publication have revealed that the ‘Shoot-to-kill’ policy adopted by government has given some unscrupulous anti-poaching officers a chance to engage in the illicit ivory trade. Another issue that has led to some junior officers to get involved in the trade is that some senior officers are used to confiscating wildlife trophies which they never report to the police. The illicit trade is said to be booming, especially among some members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) who are mostly engaged in anti-poaching and spend many months in the jungle.
The well organised syndicate is said to be involving both commissioned and non-commissioned officers with junior officers doing the dirty work and rewarded generously. After eliminating the poachers whose bodies are said to be normally buried inside the parks, the unscrupulous officers will then cut the ivory tasks into pieces for easy packaging. The officers are said to have developed a syndicate which ensures the ivory is taken to buyers well in time. The ivory trophy is said to fetch around US$200 000 (P2.4million). “The cut tasks will then be transported by trucks going to Gaborone or Francistown and normally the driver will not be aware of what is inside but told that someone will pick the bag,” revealed one member of the intelligence unit involved in the investigations. The package is usually then transported to South Africa through ungazetted points or Ramotswa or Platjaan borders which are said to have less security checking. To ensure that they evade law enforcers and checkpoints, the well-organised syndicate is said to use government vehicles which are rarely searched. “The drop off point is normally Serule and they will use the Platjaan border to cross over to South Africa,” said a highly placed source. In one of their string operations, one officer who is said to have been living beyond his means was arrested by members of the Military Intelligence and an ivory trophy was found at his house. He was arrested together with his accomplice who is also an army officer. Another lucrative market for the law enforcers is some Asian business people, especially in construction industry who buy the ivory.

TIS fights back
The Tourism Intelligence Unit which is headed by former Military Intelligence commander Peter Magosi is said to be investigating some officers, especially from Botswana Defence Force (BDF) who are said to be involved in the illegal trade.
The Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama confirmed that some law enforcement officers have been involved in poaching and colluding with poachers. “Some have been arrested and prosecuted and most of them are not from the anti-poaching unit,” said Tshekedi Khama, adding that the challenge is that his ministry is  underfunded. Khama said in the past they discovered that most of the criminals were colluding with poachers from neighbouring countries.  He praised his intelligence unit, saying no security agency can match them when it comes to curbing poaching. He said recently their operations were disturbed as they didn’t have funds for fuel and the ministry of Finance and Economic Development refused to fund them. The Director of Protocol and Public Affairs at BDF Colonel Tebo Dikole revealed that there are two members of the BDF who are currently on interdiction, in accordance with Section 117 of the BDF Act pending investigations by relevant authorities being the Botswana Police Service on suspicion of being in possession of animal trophy. “Pending the outcome of the investigations, it would be prejudicial on the part of the BDF to comment on a matter that is sub judice and it is therefore proper that the law be allowed to take its course,” said Colonel Dikole. He said members who have conclusively been convicted of poaching even when off duty have been sentenced by courts of law and ultimately discharged from the BDF.

Batswana arrested in Namibia
Two Botswana men were recently caught with elephant tasks in Namibia, according to that country’s leading daily – The Namibian. A Namibian Police chief inspector Kauna Shikwambi was quoted by the paper saying that the two men were arrested at Sila village in the Zambezi region where they were trying to sell five elephant tusks. The men, Shikwambi said, were aged 36 and 50. “It is alleged that the tusks were brought into Namibia from Botswana after the suspects crossed the river by canoe,” she said, adding that the value of the tusks was yet to be determined. The men were expected to appear in the Katima Mulilo Magistrate's Court, Shikwambi said. This arrest came a week after three others were arrested at Tjova village in Kavango East while in possession of 13 elephant tusks. 

President Khama’s view
When addressing a special SADC Ministerial Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in July last year, President Ian Khama warned of the illegal wildlife scourge. “You will agree with me that it is a sad reality today that our continent is a major source for illegally acquired wildlife and their derivatives. The elephants, rhinos, pangolins are being killed in large numbers to meet rising international demand for commodities such as ivory, rhino horn, scales and meat. While incidences of poaching and illegal trade in wildlife are on the increase, I note with satisfaction that SADC Member States are committing funds to combat the scourge of wildlife and forestry crime. Equally, I note with appreciation that penalties for those who poach and benefit from the proceeds of wildlife crime have become more stringent in recent years. It is increasingly becoming apparent that our efforts to eradicate trans boundary wildlife crime requires a coordinated approach involving all our law enforcement agencies, customs, the judiciary, prosecutors, private sector and the civil society. Efforts can no longer be directed only at stopping front line poachers and traffickers. We also have to empower our law enforcement agencies to eliminate corruption which fuels wildlife crime and to seize the assets which accrue from illegal wildlife trade. Perhaps this is an opportune time to consider putting in place dedicated judiciary systems to deal with wildlife crime,” he said.