Illegal trade in wildlife has taken a sophisticated turn, with some veterinarian researchers and biologists engaged by Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism (MCNRT) accused of stealing blood plasma from some endangered species.
Botswana is said to be fast becoming a hub for stealing blood plasma of elephants and rhinos, which is said to be in high demand in some Asian countries, under the cover of research and analysis of the endangered species. Blood plasma is a yellowish coloured liquid component of blood that normally holds the blood cells in whole blood in suspension; this makes plasma the extracellular matrix of blood cells. It makes up about 55% of the body's total blood volume.
While the nation and international conservationists grapple with the threat of poaching of elephants and other endangered species in Botswana, investigations have uncovered a dark mafia style syndicate of illegal collection of blood plasma.
“The samples are then sold in some European countries where they will be used for cloning and apparently fetch around USD 250,000. We have tried to raise alarm but authorities turn a blind eye,” revealed one veterinarian in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP).
“We did a research about the problem and presented the findings to the relevant authorities and to our surprise some of the guys who were involved in the investigations were either transferred to Gaborone or redeployed to other ministries,” revealed the officer.
The samples are mostly sold to United States and Asian countries where the blood plasma will be used to clone the animals and breed them in their respective countries mostly in private ranches. Cloning is the process of producing genetically identical individuals of an organism either naturally or artificially.
The multibillion trade, which is said to have taken place in the past 10 years, has led to some biologists within DWNP to be transferred to other ministries after they tried to stop the illegal trade. The DWNP source said they were given instructions from the highest offices in Government ordering them not to conduct any searches on researchers engaged by the Trust, something that unsettled them.
“We knew what these guys were doing and when we tried to inform our bosses they turned a blind eye on the issue,” said one officer who did not want to be named.
Accusing fingers are pointing to some researchers usually engaged by Thokomela Botswana Endangered Wildlife Trust, a non-governmental organisation formed in 2014 which is normally funded by government or international donors.
The NGO is led by Debswana Managing Director Balisi Bonyongo with board members including Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Tshekedi Khama, Elephant Without Borders founder Dr Mike Chase, Botswana Tourism Organisation Marketing Manager Jillian Blackbeard and former President Ian Khama.
In a press briefing last week, Minister Tshekedi Khama said the trust has received a grant of P15 million in March this year from European Union (EU) which will be used to pay to train and mentor wildlife rangers sharing operational intelligence and resources across the borders in the region. It will also boost legal deterrents against poaching by making investigations and prosecutions stronger across the five countries. Efforts to get comment from Minister Tshekedi Khama were futile as his mobile phone was not going through.
At the same briefing Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Dr Unity Dow raised concern about the conflict of interest by Minister Tshekedi Khama getting involved in organisations that do business with his ministry. She indicated that there is need for members of the Thokomela Trust Board to separate public interest from private interest.