By Solomon Tjinyeka for INK 24
As the majority of residents of Botswana’s Okavango Delta celebrate the return of the annual floods, escort guides from the Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT) fear poaching is on the rise.
At an event organized by the Trust in June to welcome the annual floods in Boro village, OKMCT Senior Escort Guide Monopane Namanga said he appreciated the return of the floods as it will benefit to most people in the region and resuscitate the struggling tourism sector. .
He, however, expressed concern that every time flood waters come in, poaching incidents increase. Inevitably, this puts the community guides whose mandate it is to take care of the wildlife in the delta, on high alert.
Namanga said the return of water means their workload will increase as there will be more movement of people entering the delta using their boats.
He added that most of them are tour operators whose guests explore the beauty of the delta.
“Others who enter the delta are community members living in certain settlements in the delta, either to harvest tswii (a traditional potato-like vegetable that grows in rivers) and reeds, or to fish” , he added.
However, he said there is an arrangement for anyone entering the delta to check in at the Boro mokoro (canoe) station.
This allows movements in the delta to be monitored and “it is our responsibility as accompanying guides to strictly monitor this”, he stressed.
He said tour operators carrying tourists must pay entry fees at the Trust’s office in Maun and show proof of payment before being allowed to enter the delta.
Community members who go to harvest grass or tswii must also have a permit from the Forest Department before they can enter the delta.
“The same goes for those who go inland to fish, they must also present fishing permits,” he noted.
He said it has become common for people to enter the delta posing as fishermen when in fact they are poachers who have come to kill small game such as impala and kudu for the meat consumption.
Namanga noted that when water levels are high, law enforcement slackens their patrols because they cannot penetrate deep into the delta.
Poachers then take advantage of this by using canoes and once they enter the delta, it is not easy to find them.
Since the anti-poaching unit finds it difficult to track poachers in these cases, they depend on the help of OKMCT as it is easy for escort guides to travel deep into the delta.
Namanga explained that they notify the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) camp inside the delta whenever they notice suspicious movements of people who have entered the delta, to help them by arresting poachers.
The senior escort guide further stated that he has a good working relationship with the BDF officers who patrol the delta.
He dismissed media reports suggesting that the sour relationship between community escort guides and the BDF has increased poaching cases in the delta.
“Since I have been a community escort guide, we have worked well with the BDF because they are the ones who patrol the delta like us,” he noted.
Efforts to obtain comment from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks office in Maun on
how they are prepared to deal with poaching as the backwaters were useless at press time as they did not answer our questions.
This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism Program, funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Implemented by the international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Read the original story here.