16 November 2009

Botswana: Banning Wildlife Hunting is a Mistake - Expert

Gaborone — An expert on Friday warned that the banning of hunting in preference to photographic safaris could have a devastating effect on the environment and the wildlife it is expected to preserve.

Wildlife management expert, Dr Larry Patterson said on Friday that the photographic safari model has high financial rewards but studies have shown that it can cause serious environmental degradation. "Although most ecologists would claim to be educationally sophisticated and environmentally concerned, they rarely understand the ecological consequences of their visits and how their day-to-day activities have physical impacts on the environment," he said at the Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS) annual fundraising dinner, attended by among others President Ian Khama, cabinet ministers, Phandu Skelemani, Dorcas Makgato-Malesu, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and Mokgweetsi Masisi.

Patterson has worked in Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia and conducted wildlife management consultancies for international organisations.

He said a survey conducted in 2002 among staff and clients at two facilities in the Okavango Delta asked questions about perceived environmental experiences such as number of animal sightings, encounters with other tourists, number of boats, vehicles, aircraft and tranquility.

"All were quite positive but...asked what they thought about doubling numbers in the next 10 years, they almost all said the experience and the environment would be degraded. Staff was more critical but understandably 'unofficially', being unwilling to bite the hand that feeds them," he said.

Patterson added that a recent study at a tourists resort of Xakanaxa criticised the government for lack of a proper management plan, after finding that 6,000 hectares of land had three up-market lodges and accommodation for 50 employees, two public campsites, two group campsites for mobile safaris, a commercial marina with 30 licensed boats, an airstrip, as well as 250km of roads with 300 vehicles on a busy day. He praised the hunting model because of its very low environmental impact. He said the model allows extensive areas of low scenic value to be used. He said the usual hunting quota off-take is 2-4 percent, which is insignificant in population dynamics.

"Properly administered hunting is not detrimental to wildlife populations. This is absolutely certain. Evidence is widespread and well-documented," he stressed.

Patterson attributed the increasing number of wildlife population entirely to the hunting industry. The expert says in South Africa private ranches number 10,000, while Namibia has 1,000, compared to Botswana's only 100.

He expressed hope that in future the majority of wildlife in Botswana will be on private land. He said recreational use of game ranches relieves congestion in parks and wildlife management areas. He said photographic and hunting models for wildlife management should be supported for their conservation value.

He acknowledged that some hunters may be unbalanced fanatics and bad behaviour by such unscrupulous elements hurts the image of the hunting industry. "Human emotions dictate that a majority of people are unable to divorce hunting ethics from conservation.

They see it as unfair that a hunter should use a high-powered rifle and modern technology to collect his animal and even worse that he should derive pleasure from it. The hunting industry needs to clean up its act and its image more so in this part of the world where it is saddled with the historical baggage of colonialism and the Boer image," Patterson said.

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