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Friday, March 1, 2019

fresh trouble for elephants at Botswana

Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name after becoming independent within the Commonwealth on 30 September 1966.  Since then, they maintain a tradition of stable representative republic, with a consistent record of uninterrupted democratic elections and the best perceived corruption ranking in Africa since at least 1998.  Botswana is topographically flat, with up to 70 percent of its territory being the Kalahari Desert. It is bordered by South Africa,  Namibia,  Zimbabwe & Zambia.   

Formerly one of the poorest countries in the world—with a GDP per capita of about US$70 per year in the late 1960s—Botswana has since transformed itself into one of the world's fastest-growing economies. The economy is dominated by mining, cattle, and tourism.  The country's name means "land of the Tswana", referring to the dominant ethnic group in Botswana.. .. more important than anything else - Botswana has more elephants than any other country in Africa -  more than 130000 !!  .. .. .. but before one could feel happy, there has been news that hundreds of them have been killed, poached and cruelly eliminated. 

For elephants, Botswana appeared to be  their last place of refuge on the continent, but poachers are already breaching its vast borders in their pursuit of ivory. After two years spent flying half a million kilometres across 18 African countries, the Great Elephant Census (GEC) results have been released and they don't paint a positive picture.  One of the last elephant sanctuaries in Africa has "a significant elephant-poaching problem", according to the final results of an aerial wildlife survey in Botswana seen by the BBC. Elephants Without Borders, which conducted the four-yearly survey with the government, said there was a six-fold increase in the number of "fresh" or "recent" elephant carcasses in northern Botswana amid "obvious signs" of poaching. Mike Chase, the scientist who carried out the survey, sparked a fierce debate in the country when he went public half-way through his study in August last year with accusations there was a poaching problem and alleging the authorities were ignoring him.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi at the time described the allegations as the "biggest hoax of the 21st Century" and denied there had been a spike in poaching in the country.  – but the recent reports identifies four poaching hotspots, provides photographic evidence from ground surveys and has been peer-reviewed by nine international elephant experts. .. .. and more stressful that it comes at a time when a  report by cabinet ministers in Botswana has recommended lifting a four-year hunting ban and the introduction of elephant culling.

After months of public meetings and consultations, the report by ministers also recommends the "establishment of elephant meat canning" for pet food. The number of elephants in Botswana is estimated to be about 130,000, which some argue is too many for the ecosystem - there is increasing conflict between wildlife and people. But others say the country's tourism has grown dramatically since the ban came into place and that lifting it would affect the country's international reputation for conservation. 

Tens of thousands once lived in this reserve covering 3,800 sq km (1,470 sq miles), but for centuries it was the nearest place Sudanese horsemen could find ivory, much coveted by Arab traders along the Nile.  Originally they hunted with spears and swords, but modern AK47 assault rifles allowed killing on an industrial scale. Janjaweed mercenaries from Dafur, in western Sudan, continue to be the biggest poaching threat, with heavily armed, military-trained raiding parties on horseback targeting the elephant herds for their tusks. Rangers were being killed, animals massacred in large groups, and it looked as if Zakouma's elephants were heading towards extinction.

In the past few years, an amazing transformation has taken place. In less than a decade a private, non-profit organisation has turned its fortunes around. African Parks manages some of the toughest to protect parks on the continent, and in Zakouma, at least, it has made incredible progress. ..but there are now fresh worries of poaching and the change in Govt stance that could harm elephant like never before.

Sad !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
26th feb 2019

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