By Khonani Ontebetse
Environment Wildlife and Tourism Minister, Tshekedi Khama says the government has adopted a "shoot-to-kill" policy against to poachers as a radical measure to curb the mass slaughter of elephants in the country. Speaking in an interview with Sunday Standard at the end of Africa Elephant Summit that was held in Gaborone , Khama said the shoot to kill policy has proved to be an effective deterrent as it sends a clear message to poachers that they would be shot dead on the spot when caught red handed. “These poachers break many laws when they enter our country.
Firstly they come armed with military weapons and secondly they enter the country at non gazetted points. Thirdly they engage in poaching which is illegal,’ said Khama. Asked if the move is not likely to create diplomatic tensions in the event that foreign poachers die during exchange of fire with anti poaching agents, Khama said neighbouring countries are aware of the “shoot and kill” stance that has been adopted by Botswana. “These people do not only shoot elephants but also other species. If they decide not to surrender and try to fight their way out, we will shoot them,” he said.
The Environment Wildlife and Tourism Minister explained that if Botswana did not adopt the shoot to kill policy, which he described as an effective deterrent the country will lose a number of elephants to poachers. On suggestions that poachers have as much rights to be tried in courts like other offenders instead of being executed without trial, Khama insisted that it is unfortunate that the shoot to kill policy has proved to be an effective deterrent. “Unfortunately it is what is working at the moment,” he said. Khama said recorded cases of Batswana being involved in poaching are very few adding that they were responding positively to the education on the disadvantages of poaching.
“It is not the route that we would like to take but we have no choice because we believe that this is an effective deterrent. Poachers who enter Botswana for purposes of poaching should be aware that they will lose their lives,” he warned. Khama said he was aware that human rights defenders and international conservationists are likely to condemn Botswana’s stance that perpetrators of the illicit ivory trade be executed "on the spot" but said that “no, personally as Tshekedi I do not subscribe to the notion that the shoot to kill is not a good practice.”
Khama said poachers undergo training and security agents should also be equipped with the necessary resources to match them. He said tourism plays an important role in the country’s economy hence the need to protect wildlife against poaching. “When a person enters the country at a non-gazetted point and carrying military weapons, he is breaking the law and he must be harshly punished,” he said.