Within the last few weeks, the largest poaching of elephants on the continent took place in Botswana. 87 elephants were found killed and their tusks removed. The bodies of the elephants were found after workers from Elephants Without Borders conducted an aerial survey. Botswana has the largest population of elephants on the continent, 130,000; a third of the continent’s elephant population. The Botswana government however put the figure of the elephants at 230,000.
Botswana’s new President Mokgweetsi Masisi was sworn in as the 5th President of Botswana on the first of April. In May, President Mokgweetsi withdrew arms of war from the anti-poaching unit despite the highly sophisticated equipment and artillery that poachers carry. A direct result of his action was an increase in poaching. Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders told BBC, “I’m shocked, I’m completely astounded. The scale of elephant poaching is by far the largest I’ve seen or read about anywhere in Africa to date.”
Botswana has battled wildlife crises in the past, one of the major disaster is losing its last black rhino to poachers. In 1989, General Ian Khama the then Commander of the Botswana Defence Force, and Botswana’s former president established the Botswana Defence Force Animal Awareness Park. He deployed his troops to assist with the poaching crisis that was threatening to wipe out the precious wildlife. From a team of 30 patrolling Botswana’s reserves, General Khama increased the team to 900, armed with military guns. In 1996, the National Geographic made a documentary on the troops and their encounters with poachers called Wildlife Warriors.
In 2013, the government of Botswana introduced a controversial ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy on poachers. Botswana’s former President Khama introduced the policy and placed a ban on poaching elephants in 2014. In 2016, China donated anti-poaching equipment to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. The ban was debated in June this year by the parliament. The parliament adopted to lift the ban on hunting.
A rhino horn goes for £51,000 per kilogram. According to Botswana specialists, there were only 100 white rhinos and 120,000 black rhinos in the wild in Africa in 1960. By 2000, 118,000 black rhinos had been killed. With poachers now pointing their guns to the elephants in Botswana, a major crisis looms unless the government takes urgent steps.