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Botswana dehorns its wild rhinos to save them from poachers’ slaughter

By Antipoaching, Relocation No Comments
Jane Flanagan, The Times | January 31, 2020

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Once Africa’s safest haven for wildlife, is to dehorn its entire population of wild rhinoceroses in a desperate bid to spare them from slaughter by poachers.

The radical plan has been settled on by wildlife officials who fear that the species will soon be locally extinct for the third time in the country’s history if poaching trends continue. The contentious scheme was made public, apparently in error, in a radio interview by Philda Kereng, the environment minister.

Giving advance notice about dehorning can panic poachers to try to reach the rhinos first, so rangers and vets are now scrambling to track, sedate and dehorn the most vulnerable animals in killing hotspots.

Original photo as published by The Times: At least 30 of Botswana’s dwindling rhino numbers have been slaughtered in the past year — after being relocated to the country to keep them safe from slaughter in South Africa. BARCROFT MEDIA

Map Ives, Botswana’s leading rhino expert, is helping to implement the government’s emergency plan. “I agree with the strategy, but not wholeheartedly,” he told The Times. “The onslaught is severe and we are up against very organised, dangerous professional operatives with all the resources and weapons they need.”

His organisation, Rhino Conservation Botswana, has Prince Harry as its patron, and he himself played a part in re-introducing rhino to the southern African state two decades ago.

Between 2007 and 2017 only six rhinos were killed for their horns but in the past year the government has confirmed that about 30 black and white rhinos have been lost from a population of approximately 300 — and some conservationists claim that the actual death toll is far higher. The country’s critically endangered black rhino population is now thought to be unsustainable.

“For those emotionally involved in this project, the last year has been horrific,” Mr Ives said.

Rhino horns sell for £55,000 a kilogram on the black market in Asia, where they are used as status symbols and in medicinal remedies.

Removing them to save the animals is an expensive and complex undertaking, and is not a permanent solution. The operation is done by chainsaw, leaving a small stump that grows back to a sizeable horn within three or four years, putting the rhinos at risk once more. There are also fears that to make up for lost income poaching gangs might return to targeting elephants.

Those who back the strategy say it will buy the authorities time to improve their intelligence on the poaching syndicates, which have decimated rhino numbers in neighbouring countries. South Africa has lost more than 7,000 rhinos in the past decade.

Ironically, most of those killed in Botswana had been sent there from the Kruger Park for “safekeeping” in the Okavango Delta, a Unesco world heritage site now in danger of losing its reputation as Africa’s “last Eden”.

At the same time as they are dehorned rhinos will be fitted with tracking devices. The project is expected to cost £1,000 per animal.

Being without a horn is no guarantee of safety: poachers often kill the rhino anyway so that they do not have to track it again. Most slaughter has taken place in the Okavango Delta in the northwest of the country. The delta is the hub of Botswana’s luxury tourism industry and rhinos were reintroduced to it in recent years after being poached out of the area.

A stay at the exclusive Mombo Camp on Chief’s Island, where several rhino carcasses have been found, their faces gouged out for their horns, can cost up to £3,000 a night.

Erik Verreynne, a leading wildlife vet, said that Botswana’s rhinos were treated “according to the needs of the tourism industry and not the needs of rhino conservation”. Rather than being left in remote areas close to international borders, like the delta, the rhinos should be relocated to safe, semi-wild sanctuaries “where we can concentrate our defences optimally”.

He added: “They deserve to be protected, and keeping them in high-risk areas for the sake of tourism is against all sound principles. Viewing semi-wild rhino in Botswana is better than viewing no rhino at all.”

 

Is Botswana losing battle against rhino poaching?

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
APA News | November 27, 2019

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Rhinos have become the latest of Botswana’s endangered species being targeted by poachers who seem to have found a way of evading law enforcement agents in the Okavango Delta in the north of the country.

The southern African nation has previously been touted as the next Noah’s Ark for rhinos in Africa and appeared to be on course to achieving just that, judging by notable successes in the fight against poaching of the previously endangered elephants.

In the past Botswana used to battle an increase in elephant poaching but that seems to have subsided and now poachers have turned their focus to rhinos.

A senior official has revealed that they are battling a sudden surge in poaching incidents as poachers have broken into the southern nation’s prime tourism concession, killing six endangered rhinos within a month.

Original photo as published by Journal Du Cameroun.

Wildlife Coordinator at the Department of Wildlife and National Park, Mmadi Reuben said the country has lost about 16 rhinos to poachers since April. Six cases of rhino poaching were recorded between October and November alone.

Reuben attributed the surge in rhino poaching in recent months to the increasing number of rhinos in the country following a decision to relocate some black and white rhinos from neighbouring countries.

Another contributing factor, Reuben pointed out, is the effects of the Eli Nino-induced drought, he said. He said some of the animals are being forced to wander off from safe areas to places that are unsafe in search of water and vegetation.

“In the process, they come face to face with poachers. That is why recently the government has committed some resources to help these animals by feeding them and drilling wells,” he said.

He said the latest casualties were among the rhinos recently relocated from South Africa to Botswana – ironically running away from poachers.

Working together with the government in South Africa and with conservation agencies in that country, Botswana was seen as a safe haven for the white and black rhinos.

Botswana has a zero-tolerance approach to poaching and previously operated a “shoot-to-kill” policy against perpetrators. But some conservationists claim that the decision to withdraw arms of war from the country’s anti-poaching units on patrol along the country’s borders with its neighbours has contributed to the escalating poaching problem.

As part of the efforts to address the increasing number of poaching incidents, Reuben said the government was sensitizing communities living in the places where rhinos are found to be on the lookout for suspicious individuals.

“They are being told that as soon as they suspect that those individuals are up to something, they have to inform law enforcement agencies which are monitoring the movement of these animals,” said Reuben.

He further stated that the government is strengthening the monitoring of movement of the rhinos as part of efforts to detect incidents of poaching.

Delivering the State of the Nation Address on 18 November, President Mokgweetsi Masisi stated that the government continues to build capacity to counter the growing threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking.

Poaching is escalating in the region, driven by demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, and authorities are overwhelmed.

Botswana is home to just under 400 rhinos, according to Rhino Conservation Botswana, most of which roam the grassy plains of the northern Okavango Delta.

On its website, Rhinos Without Borders said it recently, working with the Botswana government and some conservation groups, completed an operation to dart and tag wild rhinos in the Okavango Delta.

Under the operation each rhino was fitted with a tracking device as well as taking body measurements and DNA samples as well as clipping ear notches on the rhinos that make it easy to identify the animals.

However, despite all the efforts to protect the rhino it appears as if the poachers are a step ahead of the Botswana authorities and its well-wishers.