- Eight Army officers caught in possession of Buffalo meat
- Commander defends his officers, says Bufallo was attacking
- Angry Tshekedi worried that the Buffalo was found skinned
- BDF charges at those doubting its commitment, say they are aware of the case
- Ex-Commander says Soldiers often run short of food, relish in their operations
- Contradicts BDF response on the frequency of poaching incidents by Soldiers
- Wildlife Boss says three Rhinos also killed last-two weeks, Masisi briefed
The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism is embroiled in a bitter brawl with its anti-poaching partner, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) after a Buffalo was killed, skinned and its remains were found in possession of eight BDF officers.
The BDF personnel were seen by a tourism operator within the NG/29 Concession, a Park located in Ngamiland East, North-West, Botswana with the dead Buffalo. According to reports the members of the BDF had loaded the Buffalo meat into their vehicle at the time of their discovery. The military personnel informed the operator that the Buffalo had attacked them and that it was shot in self-defence. The explanation was not accepted however as the soldiers had proceeded to skin the Buffalo and were found in possession of carved pieces of its meat.
A highly placed source revealed to this publication that soldiers are often forced into poaching due to hunger or supply of fresh meat, a reality confirmed by the former army Commander Lieutenant General Galebotswe who confirmed through a Whatsapp response to this publication that “it is true that soldiers often run out of food mainly due to the failure by suppliers not meeting delivery timeliness.”
The BDF has informed this publication that they are aware of the poaching incident involving its personnel but said they do not want to pre-empt the investigations.
“Yes the BDF is aware of such a case and does not want to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation by discussing likely penalties. However , we wish to state that should the members be found guilty they will be dealt with according to the law of the country,” responded Major Fana Maswabi from the directorate of Protocol and Public Affairs.
Investigations by this publication have found that the incident has resulted into a fall-out between the anti-poaching partners, the BDF and the Ministry responsible for Game.
This publication can reveal that the army Commander, Lieutenant General Placid Segokgo recently took an initiative to go to the Ministry and inform the senior management of the Ministry of Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, including the Minister, Tshekedi Khama of the incident.
The visit was intended to appraise the Ministry and its officials of the incident but the Commander faced a series of tough questions from the Ministry, who had already been made aware of the incident.
Khama in an interview with this publication said the matter is still internal but when informed that the police are investigating the case, he acknowledged the incident and confirmed that it is true that the police were still investigating the case.
“Yes, it is true that we received a briefing from the Commander on the issue but that is an internal matter,” he said.
Pressed further with questions, Khama admitted that “it is true that the police are investigating a case in which BDF personnel were caught in possession of Buffalo meat.”
Asked about whether it is true that they expressed disappointment at the incident, Khama opened up: “We do not want to run to any conclusions yet but of course there are a lot of questions arising from the incident, more particularly that the animal was killed and skinned. If found guilty of poaching this will be a sad era for our tourism, army and wildlife because we expect the highest form of discipline to come from the army. And if they turn from watchdogs to poachers it will be very unfortunate but like I said the matter is still under investigation,” Tshekedi said.
He continued that Botswana is renowned for its spectacular wildlife and pristine wilderness areas and, “unlike other African countries, it is winning the tough war against rampant poaching by ruthless people.”
When contacted for comment, the Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Major General Otisitswe Tirayamodimo informed this publication the matter was “bigger than him” and referred this publication to the Ministry. He however confirmed that they are investigating a Buffalo poaching case within the NG/29 Concession and added that the matter is before the Gumare Police.
“Why not call the Ministry about that case. It is before the elders. What I can only confirm to you is that yes, we are investigating a case of poaching in the area alluded to and I cannot answer further questions on that. The case is before Gumare Police Station,” he said. The poaching incident comes in the wake of rising concerns over declining wildlife species. Recently three Rhinos were confirmed killed by unidentified poachers for their trophy, around Thuli Block and Kgalagadi area. The matter, this publication can reveal, has been reported to President Mokgweetsi Masisi who has undertaken to get personally involved in finding a solution.
BDF charges at stakeholders doubting its commitment.
The army, it appears, has not taken kindly to several recent complaints and accusations levelled against it by several stakeholders. Asked about the frequency of the poaching incidents by their personnel the BDF said they do not have any history of similar cases but added that nobody should doubt their commitment to the anti-poaching mission.
“There is no record of a similar case in the history of the BDF. However, we wish to state that the BDF is a professional military whose mandate is to defend Botswana’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and national interests. The Defence Force’s dedication to preserve the faunal resources of this country, which are the backbone of its tourism sector, is evidenced by the significant quantity of equipment and personnel resources engaged in anti-poaching operations,” stated the BDF through its spokesperson-Major Maswabi.
This statement, on past acts of poaching by members of the BDF however appear to have been tailored to protect the integrity of the army. This publication asked the former commander Lieutenant General, Gaolathe Galebotswe whether he had dealt with similar cases in the past to which he responded, simply, “YES.”
Members of Tshekedi’s Ministry were recently disarmed following a decision by the new administration to withdraw arms from the Ministry. Sources say the decision has not gone down well with Tshekedi who is of the view that they are more vulnerable than ever.
Buffaloes are one of Africa’s Big Five and have a reputation for being extremely dangerous, especially when wounded. They are the third most numerous antelope in the Okavango.
A microscopic look at the BDF’s Anti Poaching mission…
The BDF has since 1987 played an increasingly prominent role in anti-poaching operations in support of the principal enforcer -the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), and the police.
Wildlife and police officers have broad enforcement powers and are authorized to conduct warrantless searches and seizures if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a person has violated the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act.
A wildlife officer also has limited prosecutorial power and may charge and summon for court appearance a person suspected of committing an offense under the WCNPA punishable by a fine of up to P500 and up to six months in prison. The BDF members which are currently facing the charge play a major role in enforcing the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act.
Although no statutory authority for its role as protector of wildlife exists, one scholarly source indicates that the BDF’s involvement in anti-poaching activities began in 1987 in large part to support the DWNP, whose anti-poaching arm at the time was unable to effectively carry out its mission. Although at the beginning of operations the BDF’s Commando Squadron was the only unit involved in anti-poaching activities, by 1989 the mission was broadened to include all units of the BDF.
The BDF’s anti-poaching operations are aimed more at cross-border poaching by armed gangs than at local meat poachers. The BDF works closely with DWNP and the police in planning and executing its operations. It also works with countries in the region through a Joint Military Commission in which members share intelligence and participate in joint sting operations.