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The death of ‘Serondela’ marks conservation catastrophe (Botswana)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Gaming, Illegal trade No Comments
Dave Baaitse, The Weekend Post | March 9, 2020

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The recent rise in mass slaughter of rhinos and constant brutal killing of rhinos for their horns at Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta led to the death of one of Botswana’s iconic and cherished white rhino affectionately named Serondela.

Over the years, Serondela has become a symbol of Botswana’s success in rhino conservation and brought joy to those that knew his story. According to impeccable sources, Serondela’s story has lived on and inspired many people.

In later days when the numbers of rhino poaching had stabilised, he was relocated back to the delta until he met his demise recently, marking an end to a great conservation story. In an interview with one of the local newspapers, former Commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Major General Gaolatlhe Galebotswe was quoted saying anti-poaching operations are intelligence led. “With a committed intelligence outfit we will be able to find the culprits in a short time,” he said.

Original photo as published by Weekend Post: Named Serondela, the white iconic rhino bull was one of the four surviving white rhinos in Botswana at a time when white rhinos were poached to near extinction.

Galebotswe said the problem stems not from a lack of weapons for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, but from an intelligence service that serves individual interests. The latest incidents show an escalation of the poaching rate, with approximately two rhinos killed every week.

Impeccable sources submit that the recent increase might be instigated by the fact that poaching syndicates are agile, and will shift to different areas as security and intelligence operations ramp up in the regions that have already seen intense poaching.

It is also reported that gangs will use new tactics continuously to avoid getting caught, always looking for the next location and trying to find ‘softer targets’. Last week Botswana Defence Force (BDF) refuted reports that the recent scenario is an inside job by its members particularly the Special Forces Unit popularly known as Commandos.

Reports suggest that the BDF Special Forces Unit is currently working under ‘protest’ a move that is highly linked to the fact that they were not beneficiaries of the 2019 BDF salary adjustments dubbed ‘Ntlole’.

This move is highly linked to the recent unprecedented rate of rhino poaching in the history of the country. Colonel Tebo Dikole, Director, Protocol and Public Affairs declined to discuss BDF operational matters such as, “the members of the special Forces and Infantry Units currently deployed in the anti-poaching operations at Chief’s Island”. “BDF in the execution of its mission of defending Botswana’s Territorial Integrity, Sovereignty and National Interests is not driven by profit or remuneration. All BDF members, including Special Forces’ performance hinges on one of our core value of ‘Duty’ which succinctly states that, ‘Duty is accomplishing all assigned tasks to the fullest of our ability,’ Col Dikole said.

Save the Rhino Africa indicated that Botswana has historically held a tough stance on poaching, often reported as an ‘unwritten shoot to kill policy’. However, strong words have not always been backed up by effective law enforcement.

In May 2018, the Government of Botswana disarmed its anti-poaching units, a story fuelled by internal politics. And there are wider issues around prosecutions further up the chain. According to the Save the Rhino report, in July 2018, Dumisani Moyo, a high-level wildlife trafficker, was released on bail despite repeated arrests for rhino poaching and being on Interpol’s Red List of most-wanted wildlife criminals.

This was not the first time Moyo had escaped prosecution: since 2008, he has apparently bribed his way out of a number of court cases, according to the report. Botswana is home to 500 rhinos, according to international conservation charity, Save the Rhino.

They are a protected species in Botswana and fall outside the government’s recent decision to end a five-year ban on trophy-hunting licences, which is largely targeted at the burgeoning elephant population.

Nearly 50 rhinos killed in Botswana in 10 months as poaching surges

By Antipoaching, Gaming No Comments
France 24 | February 24, 2020

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At least 46 rhinos have been slaughtered in Botswana in 10 months, a government official said on Monday as the southern African wildlife haven reported a surge in poaching of the endangered species.

The killings — slightly under 10 percent of Botswana’s total rhino population — have occurred in the northern Moremi Game Reserve since April last year.

“Poaching has risen at an alarming rate in this area,” Moemi Batshabang, a deputy director with the government’s wildlife department told AFP.

“I can attest that 46 rhinos have been killed by highly organised poachers between April last year to date,” he said.

Original photo as published by France 24.

Botswana is home to 500 rhinos, according to international conservation charity, Save the Rhino.

They are a protected species in Botswana and fall outside the government’s recent decision to end a five-year ban on trophy-hunting licences, which is largely targeted at the burgeoning elephant population.

Most of the rhinos roam the grassy plains of the northern Okavango Delta, where Moremi Game Reserve is situated.

“The increase in poaching of both the black and white rhino is of concern and unusual,” said Batshabang.

The unprecedented rate of poaching last year prompted the government to warn that the rhino population could be wiped out in the southern African country by 2021.

Thousands of rhinos that once roamed Africa and Asia have been culled by poaching and habitat loss. Very few are found outside national parks and reserves.

Poaching is fuelled by a seemingly insatiable demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is coveted as a traditional medicine or an aphrodisiac, and can fetch up to $60,000 per kilogramme.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same substance as in human nails.

Botswana’s neighbour South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos and the epicentre of rhino poaching, lost 594 rhinos to poachers last year. The good news is that this marks a 23 percent drop from the previous year.

More than 7,100 animals have been slaughtered over the past decade

There are fewer than 25,000 rhinos left in the wild in Africa due to a surge in poaching, and only 5,000 of them are black rhinos.


Former Australian sniper works to curb African rhino poaching

By Antipoaching, Conservation No Comments
Steve Goldstein, KJZZ | October 23, 2019

See link for photo & 9-minute audio interview

Though numbers indicate poaching of African rhinos has leveled off, the problem is still dramatic. Figures from Save the Rhino International show that two and half rhinos are killed every day in South Africa, often by poachers who want to take their horns and sell them.

Original photo as published by Kjzz.org: A conservation ranger undergoes sniper training in the bush to curb poaching. (Photo: Brent Stirton)

Former Australian Royal Navy Clearance Diver and Special Ops Military Sniper Damien Mander made stopping poaching his goal as founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.

The Show spoke with Mander alongside Vimbai Kumire, a member of Zimbabwe’s all-female ranger unit devoted to anti-poaching. The two of them are at Mesa Arts Center Wednesday night as part of the annual National Geographic Live speakers series.

See link for photo & 9-minute audio interview

The black rhinos surviving Damaraland’s drought (Namibia)

By Conservation, namibia, News No Comments
Guest blog by Keith Somerville, Save the Rhino | October 3, 2019

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Bashing along a basalt boulder-strewn track in Torra Conservancy in Namibia’s Damaraland, our guide cut the engine and whispered “rhino”. About 150 yards ahead was a large black rhino looking straight toward us. Because rhinos have poor eyesight it is most likely that she was listening to the sound of us approaching, but probably couldn’t see us well enough to know what we were.

Original photo as published by Save the Rhino: Guest blog by Keith Somerville.

If the cow was aware of our presence, she didn’t show any concern and continued nibbling at the euphorbia damarana bush in front of her. This bush survives well in the harsh, arid, rocky terrain and climate of Namibia’s Damaraland. It may be one reason why the desert-adapted rhinos of Damaraland appear to be surviving the three-year drought there better than other wildlife. Euphorbia is strongly drought resistant and exudes a thick, milky sap that is so toxic that it can kill browsing herbivores and has been used by San hunters as a poison for their arrows. Rhinos can eat it without ill-effects (as can desert-adapted gemsbok and kudu) and it helps them survive when other vegetation withers and dies.

Talking to trackers from Namibia’s Save the Rhino Trust, I was told that elephants and many other browsers won’t eat euphorbia and this means more food is available for the rhinos when drought has destroyed palatable plants and led to death for some animals. We saw the carcass of an elephant in one of the conservancies, which our guide said had died from starvation caused by drought.

Yet the rhinos are doing well. The rhino we first spotted was not alone. She was accompanied by a very healthy three-month-old calf. The calf looked strong and showed no signs of suffering from the conditions – an indication that the cow was getting enough food and liquid to produce milk.

A kilometre further on, we got more evidence of the successful breeding ability and mothering skills of the cow we’d seen. Again feeding on euphorbia was a young male. This, our guide told us, was the three-year-old offspring of the same cow, which had been weaned and then pushed out of her territory by the mother before she gave birth to the calf we had seen.

A few days later we successfully tracked a black rhino cow and fully-grown calf in a conservancy to the north of Torra. Our tracker told us that calves were appearing to stay with their mothers longer during the drought, presumably to learn more about what they could and could not safely eat.

It was heartening to see successful breeding among these endangered rhinos and to be able to approach to a close but respectful distance without causing alarm. This is to a great extent a result of the conservancy policy in Namibia, giving local communities a greater sense of ownership over land and wildlife, and the work of the Save the Rhino Trust in combating poaching and encouraging tolerance in the conservancies (where pastoralists live alongside wildlife).

Poaching remains a problem in Namibia – but less so in conservancies where there are eco-tourism ventures and the people have the ability to make their own decisions about sustainable approaches to conservation. This means that communities benefit from encouraging the well-being of rhinos, as they bring in income through tourism without threatening livestock or water resources.

Professor Keith Somerville is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation at the University of Kent, a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.