As the nation eagerly awaits concrete answers from the Government in the aftermath of reports made by Elephants Without Borders, SONNY SERITE examines documents leaked from the Office of the President on the matter.
The remarkable heading of a report compiled by Michael ‘Mike’ Chase of Elephants Without Borders, on the 3rd of August 2018, stands out, written in bold; ‘Ivory Tower’. The English dictionary describes ‘Ivory Tower’ as ‘‘a state of privileged seclusion or separation from the facts and practicalities of the real world’’. This is the report that international media ran with, hook, line, and sinker.
The Botswana Gazette is in possession of Chase’s incident report which he compiled during an aerial survey authorised by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism. The wildlife aerial survey started on July 5th 2018 and is expected to conclude end of October. This publication is also in possession of an incident report that was compiled by Kai Collins, Honorary Wildlife Officer on 20 July 2018. We are also in possession of correspondence written by Chase to President Mokgweetsi Masisi and responses given to Chase.
Twelve days into his survey, on the 17th July, Chase, in violation of the terms of his agreement with government, circumvented the Ministry that engaged him and approached the Office of the President. He wrote a letter to President Masisi informing him that he had reported the location of suspected poached elephants to the necessary authorities and requested his ‘‘swift response to addressing the illegal wildlife trafficking in Botswana’’.
Director of Department of Wildlife and National Parks Major General Otisitswe Tiroyamodimo immediately issued a written response to him and assured him that preventative measures had been implemented and that his concerns were being addressed.
‘‘I convened a meeting of all security forces, with the assistance of the Commander of the BDF to discuss this matter. Unfortunately, we agreed that the proceedings be kept to security forces and DNWP only, safe (sic) to say a plan has been put in place to deal with the mater, but we must agree it involves some other countries and cannot be solved overnight’’, Tiroyamodimo made the assurance to Chase.
Unhappy with the response from Tiroyamodimo, Chase wrote in an additional report that, ‘‘it’s difficult to ascertain how the authorities are responding to this increasing trend. At what stage do we pull our heads out the sand and admit we have an elephant poaching problem and do something to stop it?’’.
Chase followed up with another letter to President Masisi on 21 August with subject matter; “Poaching crisis threatens Botswana’s economy and international reputation”. In the letter, Chase informed Masisi that halfway into his census, he had recorded 83 suspected poached elephants. ‘‘Determining the response by the authorities to my reports has been difficult to ascertain, but I am confident that your Government is now giving this the highest priority it deserves given the importance of tourism to the economy of northern Botswana’’, Chase wrote. He continued, ‘‘I wish to work under the authority of government to try combat this problem and to secure a more prosperous future for Botswana. I am committed to helping you Mr President, as well as Honourable Minister Khama to (sic) retaining our international reputation for being at the forefront of wildlife tourism’’.
Chase did not receive a response from President Masisi ostensibly because Chase has already been paid P3.8million by the Botswana Government to do exactly what he is asking Masisi to task him with. P600, 000.00 of the money has been given to Chase to take care of three orphaned elephant calves while the remainder was for the conduct of a survey which was aimed at ‘retaining our international reputation for being at the forefront of wildlife tourism’, to use Chase’s words.
Chase then, perceiving the lack of response from the President as a slight, decided to approach the international media to reveal, “the extent” of elephant poaching in Botswana and as a result damage the very reputation he had sought to restore. In his report to the international media, and contrary to the report made to the Office of the President, Chase made it appear as though his survey discovered a genocide of elephants with 87 massacred indiscriminately ‘‘within a few weeks’’. It would also appear in his call to seek Masisi’s attention, Chase had hoped the President would mobilise a ‘‘swift response ’’ and pump more funds into his project because when he now turned to the international media, Chase made a SOS call asking for assistance.
He wrote in his report to the international media, ‘‘We have exhausted our resources on helicopter time, so to anyone who doesn’t believe in the scale of elephant poaching the survey team is reporting, they can pay for the helicopter charter and I’ll fly with them to the carcasses and see what we are bearing witness to… faceless rotting elephants!’’. Chase continued with his lament, ‘‘if you are reading this and thinking ‘Oh what can I do to help? Send the dispatch to someone who cares and can help us stop this killing’’.
In his report to the international media, Chase provides aerial photographs and captions without providing co-ordinates. He informs the media houses that he has availed the co-ordinates to the Government of Botswana, but that due to security concerns he is unable to provide the international media with the same.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Thato Raphaka has rebuffed Chase’s assertion to the international media. He confirms that Chase has not provided government with exact locations of the reported 87 carcasses. One thing not to be missed is that Chase runs an organisation that survives on donor funds and he can only get funds if he proves there is need to be funded. When he reports that 87 elephants have been massacred at a go, the donors are bound to reach for their pockets.
Additionally the report availed to the international media states that the current administration is weak on its anti-poaching policies, attributing the disarmament of the “anti-poaching unit”. Public statements at the time of disarming of members of the Wildlife and Parks under the Ministry of Tourism, by security agencies reveal that the Ministry of Tourism was disarmed as there was no legislation in place authorising its personnel to carry weapons of war. The Anti-poaching Unit, comprising of members of the Botswana Defence Force, the Botswana Police Services and assisted by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security Services, has not been disbanded and continues to operate.
In a response to the Chase report, Dr. Kathleen Alexander DVM PhD, Board President CARACAL and two other leading experts in the field of anti-poaching have criticised the findings of EWB. They Note in a published article that the reported carcasses are not reflective of an escalation of poaching and that the figures are markedly lower than those of other “range countries”. They conclude their report by stating that “we find no scientific basis for the dramatic assertions made in the recent BBC report and question why such a report was disseminated to the media, prior to the completion of the current survey and data analysis.”
In accepting the Chase report without the involvement of the Botswana Government, international media overlooked the political power struggle that has emerged between Masisi and the Khama. The systemic corruption that prevailed at the DIS under the Khama regime and the unlawful purchase of armaments of war under the auspices of anti-poaching, together with the private aircraft purchased by both the Tourism Ministry, headed by Khama’s younger brother and the DIS by Isaac Kgosi, Khama’s proxy went unmentioned by the international media.