Limited technology, military protection, dedication, political will and location may all impact the rhino poaching crisis.
Botswana reminds me of the state of New Mexico in the US except the politics seems less crazy here. Vast expanses of semi-desert with very little population and most of its’ pretty raked into a few unique areas. The first of these we visit is the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Lucky we have our 4-wheel drive as once you leave the highway the sand tracks are deep and, well… scary at first. But the Land Rover grunts and pulls as if to say, “Finally, something I can put my teeth into!”
We check-in then slither and slide the 3 kilometers to our campsite. Our welcoming committee of 2 Hornbills perch right above us quizzically examining and approving. Two shimmering Starlings show up obviously wanting dinner. And right behind them my introduction to the Lourie; brown gray cockatoo like birds with the strangest irritating haunting call. Margrit says its’ nick name is ‘go away bird’.
In the morning we again slither and slide around the sanctuary looking for wildlife. The undergrowth is dense. Little is seen until we come upon a pan, somewhat like a water hole with just grass growing around it for about a square mile. Wow this is more like it; Springbuck, Zebra, Giraffe, Lechwe, Hartebeest, Warthogs, Impala, Nyala in small herds. We sit at the overlook watching them come and go.
But where are the Rhino? There are plenty of spoor (tracks), scat (droppings) and reported sightings from others. But they elude us in the 4 short hours we look for them.
While talking to two park officials we learn the park was founded in 1989 on the initiative of Serowe residents, the black Botswana government and 3 surrounding communities in a desire to protect Rhino and provide work. It is self-sufficient from gate and park revenues which pose some problems for recent expansion but things are well kept, friendly, safe for the wildlife and helpful to the communities.
Now the big question, “How bad is your poaching problem?”
“There have been no poaching incidents here”, they say proudly.
“Wait, no poaching, not even Rhino! How do you do that?” Margrit says not quite believing.
He indicates the Government has been committed to wildlife for a long time and even assigns its’ military to patrol the park 24-7. Also, local law enforcement is effective and local people realize the importance of tourism as a key industry for the area. Plus wildlife has been part of their heritage for centuries.
“So what makes you different than South Africa?” This causes an interesting shuffling in their seats. Finally, an answer very politely almost embarrassed, “Now I may be wrong, but it may be an inside job.”
“But that could happen here too, right?”
The other man indicates that South Africa is much more sophisticated, more electronics and technology.
“But shouldn’t that help in catching poachers?”
“No, you don’t understand…” he humbly says. “We don’t need much so we are not tempted, yet”.
Interesting, but I don’t think it is just the greed factor. Behind his statement is also the deep commitment of a black government for wildlife from the beginning. Being an English protectorate and not a colony they adopted this attitude more on their own. It has become part of the people’s psyche and culture. It is not the white man’s thing, which the conservationists in South Africa have been battling since the demise of apartheid.
Now don’t get me wrong the rhino poaching crisis is not a black problem in South Africa. The wildlife was decimated by the land grab in the 1800’s, clearing for vast farms, mining and just plain population growth. Conservation with set aside wildlife reserves is a relatively recent phenomenon from the 1960’s saving much from extinction.
But he is right. Greed is naturally growing in the culture of South Africa. Look at all those BMWs. Not only tempted but blatantly obvious and cunning in their methods. A dear friend received approval for a river cleanup project including a large sum of money from the government lotto. Excitedly she went to transfer the moneys when 10% was demanded from the official for herself. Long story short, there could be no court battle because the only record of the approval was our friend’s letter. All other records had been wiped clean.
As usual the health and safety of our wildlife lies in the battle of compassion vs greed. The interesting word from our sanctuary official was “yet”.
“Not tempted, yet.” As these many poor countries emerge I pray the western values of greed and having stuff can be controlled. But I fear they will soon have their own zoos and tell their grandchildren how it used to be in the wilds of Africa. Where people from around the earth would come for the experience before the wildlife was all poached for body parts to highest profit or exotic craze.
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