In Botswana, there has been a significant increase in rhino poaching since President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s ascension to the seat in 2018. According to Cabinet Minister Mabuse Pule, who answered a parliamentary question on behalf of the Minister of Environment and Tourism Philda Kereng, a total of 138 rhinos have been lost to poachers between 2018 and 2022.
In 2018, the year that Masisi took office, seven rhinos were lost to poachers, and 30 were poached in the following year. In 2021, despite an increase in anti-poaching interventions, 33 rhinos were lost to poachers, while six were poached in 2022.
Pule dismissed claims made by former President Ian Khama, who had previously blamed the increase in poaching on the disarming of the Wildlife and National Parks anti-poaching unit by Masisi’s administration. Pule instead attributed the increase to the high demand for rhino horns in the international market, stating that “poachers looked for places where rhinos are around” and that “a displacement of international criminal syndicates from other southern African states could be a factor.”
Before Masisi took office, the wildlife anti-poaching unit was armed with military weapons to fight poaching. However, Masisi disarmed the unit in 2018, citing a lack of framework for permitting the unit to carry military weapons.
In 2020, Masisi suggested that the increase in rhino poaching might be a plot to damage the country’s tourism image. “We know where these rhinos are staying and who is keeping them, but all along there was less poaching of them. Why now? This could be a plot, maybe by critics, to damage our image,” Masisi said at the time.
Despite the increase in poaching, Pule assured Parliament that the interventions implemented to fight poaching are bearing fruit.