Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi says criticism of his government's anti-poaching policy is "nothing but hysteria," following reports of a "poaching frenzy" in a country with Africa's biggest elephant population. The remark came after some conservationists expressed concern that Botswana's wildlife department had been stripped of weapons required for the sometimes dangerous work of thwarting armed poachers, reports the AP. "This stretch of imagination of linking the poaching of any species with an alleged disarmament of the department of wildlife is nothing but hysteria," Masisi said Saturday. Elephants Without Borders, a conservation group, said this month that results from an ongoing elephant census in Botswana indicate poaching has surged. The spike coincided with the disarming of anti-poaching units, the group said.
The government of Masisi said weapons were withdrawn from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in line with legislation that bars the department from having them. An official previously specified that the weapons in question are military issue, indicating that the department does retain some firearms. Accustomed to international praise for conservation efforts, Botswana has come under scrutiny from groups such as PETA that suggest wildlife tourism there could be hurt. "It remains to be seen whether the spike in poaching is an isolated incident or reflects a troubling new trend," said another group, WildAid. Pushing back at critics, Masisi said the fact that elephants have flourished in Botswana is a tribute to the country's conservation approach. "Most are found here," he said. "It's not accidental. It is we who caused them to be."