GABORONE, BOTSWANA - Botswana soldiers this week shot and killed a suspected rhino poacher during a gunfight in the vast Okavango Delta, where poaching has reached unprecedented levels. The southern African nation's anti-poaching unit has killed 19 suspects since 2019, as the government employs a shoot-to-kill policy.
Botswana’s military said a rhino poaching suspect was killed Wednesday during an exchange of fire in the thickets of the Okavango Delta.
Botswana Defense Force’s Major Mabikwa Mabikwa said poachers are using sophisticated weapons of war and communication equipment. He says the army is up to the challenge.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi recently said the military will not hesitate to shoot poachers.
“Poachers are sufficiently radicalized to kill, so they are dangerous," said Masisi. "We put an army in place to defend this country, so any intruder is an enemy. And unfortunately, as with any war, there are casualties.”
The army says it has killed 19 suspected rhinoceros poachers since last year, while one soldier lost his life during an exchange in April.
Poachers mostly target rhino, with 56 of the endangered animals killed in the past two years.
The government recently decided to dehorn all the rhinos and relocate them to secure, private locations.
Department of Wildlife and National Parks principal veterinary officer Mmadi Reuben said in addition to dehorning, anti-poaching efforts would be intensified.
“We expect to see the results. It (dehorning) is meant to disincentive," said Reuben. "This does not in any way replace our anti-poaching strategies that we put in place. In fact, we up our anti-poaching operations and augment them further to ensure that any perpetrators that come in, they are brought to book.”
The Okavango Delta is wet and challenging to navigate, with some areas inaccessible by road. Most poachers cross over from neighboring countries.