While sipping a beer on the verandah of the Victoria Falls Hotel last week, my long standing friend, Mike Myers, who has been in the safari industry for the past 30 years, told me of two rhino recently released in Botswana who had gone walk about.
Apparently these two animals were planning an unauthorized cross border immigration into Namibia. The communities and safari industry operators in the Delta were concerned and this information reached the Botswana President, Ian Khama. He reacted immediately and incisively by deploying two battalions of soldiers and two helicopters tasked with the responsibility to capture and relocate these animals before they left the country. On his instruction, the exercise was carried out with military precision and the two wayward Rhino were returned to safe haven in the heart of the Delta.
The significance of this story was, for me, much more about symbolic leadership of a country than saving two Rhino. It was so refreshing to hear a positive story about a President working in the interests of his economy, his country, his people and the protection of his wildlife.
Earlier in that same week, I met with another longstanding friend, MAP Ives, who has spent a lifetime working in conservation in Botswana as head of Wilderness Safari’s sustainability programs. MAP described to me the three critical things that stand out in Botswana making it such a conservation success story:
- Unequivocal, political support at the highest level.
- Full access to state military resources as and when needed at short notice
- Complete integration and alignment between government, community and private sector.
In short, Botswana represents a fine African conservation success story and an excellent example of a cooperative strategy at all levels of community, stakeholders, business, conservationists and politicians. The people of Botswana talk glowingly about their President and his commitment to protecting the Okavango Delta as a treasure for the whole world.
As I ended my 7 day safari in this amazing water wonderland, I pondered whether other African political leaders might consider the simplicity of what Ian Khama had done. Recapturing two free roaming rhino using military resources and the message which this story sends to the global audience. A message of hope, servant leadership and wildlife protection.
Returning to South Africa, I was pleased to find out that new legislation had recently been signed off by both Mozambique and South African government officials, imposing more onerous legal consequences on convicted poachers. Closer to home, the integrated anti-poaching approach, which we have been implementing using effective intelligence structures, boots on the ground and hearts and minds community partnership projects, suggests that the tide against the scourge of rhino poaching in our local region may be turning – and for a brief moment, as this years Earth Day rolls around, the rhino in Londolozi are safe.
Earth Day is a day on which events are held worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection and here at Londolozi we continue to remain vigilant as ever and look to our political leaders to hear and see the same simple, symbolic messages and actions of support and leadership that President Khama sent to those on the front line of Rhino protection in Botswana.
In closing, I’d like to express my thanks to both Wilderness Safaris and Great Plains for their superb and wonderful hospitality during our visit to the Delta. I extend to them my heartfelt thanks and congratulations for the remarkable conservation work they continue to do and for working so hard to keep this rare and precious jewel of the Delta safe for us all.
Written by: Dave Varty