elephants2From : Mmegi.bw

8 March 2013

By: MICHAEL J. MURPHY

I am not referring only to diamonds.  Botswana’s rich biodiversity and its abundant wildlife have been central to the country’s prosperity.  In 2012, eco-tourism generated 8 billion Pula for Botswana’s economy and produced 49,500 jobs.  The value of Botswana’s wildlife and its importance to the average Motswana will only continue to grow.  According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, only eight countries in the world will see their economic growth more dependent on tourism than Botswana.  By 2022, tourism-related activities will almost double to bring in over 15 billion Pula for the country – but that will only happen if we all work together to preserve Botswana’s environmental wealth.

Through its efforts to protect and preserve these precious resources that benefit so many, Botswana has distinguished itself as a global leader in wildlife conservation.  Much of the credit rightly goes to His Excellency the President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, for his recognition not only of the value of the nation’s wildlife to Botswana’s development, but of its importance to the world’s biological heritage.  Previous generations of leaders wisely prioritised conservation as well.  This included facing down a wildlife trafficking threat in the early 1990s through direct engagement and enforcement efforts by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF).  The BDF established and maintained a regimen of foot patrols and aerial surveillance over an 80,000 square mile frontier region that suppressed large animal poaching for over 20 years.  That effort averted an ecological catastrophe and enabled the stunning growth of Botswana’s world-class eco-tourism sector, an economic pillar that now contributes 12 percent to Botswana’s gross domestic product.

America has been proud to stand with you as Botswana works to preserve its natural resources.  In 2009, President Obama remarked that in today’s world, boundaries between people are overwhelmed by our connections, and he underscored the United States’ commitment to partnering with African countries to build the future we want for all of our children.  We have sought to do just that here in Botswana when it comes to protecting your country’s wildlife and ensuring future generations can appreciate and benefit from it.  We have worked closely with your government and local communities to put in place Community Based Natural Resource Management schemes in the Okavango Delta, Chobe and elsewhere that are designed to protect wildlife while allowing communities to generate income, employment, and revenues for infrastructure development, aid to vulnerable groups, and other services.  These benefits have contributed significantly to economic diversification, greater livelihood security and poverty alleviation in rural areas.  Together, Botswana and the United States have also taken steps to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.  This work underscores the economic value of Botswana’s natural resources, particularly its wildlife, and the importance of devolving power to local communities and establishing collective proprietorship by them in resource management and tourism development.  We will be celebrating some of this joint work later this week in Maun.

The United States and Botswana are working together globally to support conservation goals as well.  Earlier this week, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, better known as CITES, celebrated its 40th anniversary as the group kicked off its Conference of the Parties in Bangkok, Thailand. My government and yours are co-sponsoring in Bangkok a proposal that will help protect the magnificent but increasingly endangered leopard, further evidence of the close partnership between the United States and Botswana.But governments cannot succeed in this alone.  As conservation leaders from nations around the world discuss the state of protection of our planet’s wildlife, it is a good time to consider what that means here and why it matters to the average Motswana.  New threats are making Botswana’s second-largest income generator vulnerable.  Wildlife trafficking is on the rise, and today’s wildlife traffickers are better organised, more technologically sophisticated, and far more dangerous.  This is a continent-wide phenomenon.

Elephants and rhinos are being gunned down across Africa by wildlife traffickers with military-grade weapons. Rangers and wildlife traffickers face off in ever more violent and bloody confrontations.  Animal populations are plummeting.  With wildlife trafficking more organised and more lucrative – some estimate that it is a $10-$20 billion a year business – it is more of a threat to Africa’s security than could have been imagined just a few years ago.  Wildlife trafficking is not just an environmental problem.  It robs local communities of economic resources.  It compromises governments’ efforts to halt other illicit trades, such as those in arms and drugs.  It fuels corruption, undermining the rule of law and compromises national security.  Put simply, wildlife trafficking is threatening Africa’s development and wiping out some of the hard-earned economic and social achievements the region and the continent have made in recent years.  And Botswana is not immune.  Since 2006, commercial and subsistence poaching in Botswana have increased dramatically.

As Botswana looks to a future with decreased diamond resources, today’s Batswana should have no doubt that the nation’s wildlife resources are just as important to the country’s future as diamonds pulled from the ground.  For Botswana’s diamond trade, protection is a well-oiled routine, including armed guards, complex security procedures, and sophisticated surveillance equipment.  The same must be true for the elephant, rhino, kudu, leopard, sable and all the other magnificent creatures that roam this land without which there would be no wildlife-based tourism.  The government’s focus on this challenge to date is to be commended.  Human co-existence with wildlife has been and will continue to be a challenge, but the benefits – in  supporting the growth of the nation’s tourism industry, preserving this country’s unique natural heritage, and protecting the country from the insidious influences of organised crime – are immense.

Protecting Botswana’s precious wildlife will take more than visionary leaders, however.  It will take the awareness and the engagement of people across this land – rural and urban, young and old, businessperson and farmer – to ensure that the country’s wildlife remains a resource for generations to come. This message is important for all Batswana today – but it is particularly important for today’s youth, tomorrow’s leaders.  And just as today’s adults protect their children, today’s youth must know that the country’s wildlife are an invaluable resource, one that will form a pillar of the Botswana that exists in 10, 20, 50, or 100 years.  With this awareness and the active engagement of the general public, together, the people and the wildlife of Botswana will have a bright future.

* United States Embassy Charge d’Afaires Michael J. Murphy.