By Mbongeni Mguni
(Bloomberg) -- Botswana has started training law enforcement officers who will form a specialist team to tackle rhino poachers, the southern African country’s environment minister said.
The world’s largest diamond producer has set aside 48 million pula ($5 million) for the unit, known as the Rhino Squad, Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Minister Tshekedi Khama said in a March 13 interview in Gaborone, the capital. Most of the money will be used for equipment, including helicopters, he said.
“The harder we hit back, the less motivation they have,” Khama said. “It’s about hitting back harder than what they hurt us with.”
Rhinos are killed by poachers for their horns, which are ground into a powder that is believed by some people in Vietnam and China to cure cancer. This trade last year was valued at between $63 million and $192 million, figures from the United Nations Congress on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora show.
A rhino was poached in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi salt pan area three weeks ago, while anti-poaching officials in the Sandveld region reported that three rhinos owned by a farmer were missing, Khama said. More than 1,200 rhinos were illegally killed in neighboring South Africa last year.
Botswana hosts an African Elephant Summit on March 23 in the northern town of Kasane, before the Illegal Wildlife Trade conference starts there two days later.