8 June 2019

Botswana: Diaz - Why Botswana Got It Wrong in Lifting the Ban On Elephant Hunting

Africa is home to some 415,000 elephants, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) -- the population having been largely ruined by poaching for ivory.

Over 60 million tourists visit Africa every year to see the beautiful wildlife and other tourist attractions earning the continent billions of dollars and creating much needed employment.

But Botswana, which has 130,000 elephants, the world's largest population, has lifted the ban on elephant hunting, citing growing conflict between humans and the animals, which at times destroy crops.

The move has angered thousands of angry conservationists who believe that lifting the ban launches another season for the rapid decline in elephant numbers on the continent.

Sadly, most African countries continue to see elephants as an endangered species that is at risk of being killed for trophy hunting which ultimately opens up the deadly ivory trade.

The decision also risks damaging Botswana's international reputation for conservation and affect its revenues from tourism, the second largest source of foreign income for the country after diamond mining.

Botswana has long been a refuge for elephants in a continent where tens of thousands have been killed over the years for their ivory, and the animals have long been a tourist attraction.

Some had warned of tourism boycotts if the ban was lifted, and even American talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres joined the protest.

"President Masisi, for every person who wants to kill elephants, there are millions who want them protected. We're watching," she tweeted after Botswana's decision was announced.

I have written with other conservationist a letter to Botswana President to reconsider this decision and there is a lot to learn from many nations especially in East Africa how elephants are protected and many organizations globally are ready to assist Botswana translocate and build fences or provide scientific solutions to conserve the species.

In its defence, the Botswana Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said in a statement that "The number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing, and that the predators appear to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers.

The country, although with a population of just over 6 million people, suffers some human-wildlife conflict but has more space than many other country for animals to roam.

On the other hand, Surveys have shown that the elephant "range" (how far the animals travel) has been expanding.

Experts say this is down to many factors, including climate change. With the latest survey of wildlife suggesting that their numbers are not increasing as many rural people suspect, and conservationists are likely to say the decision aims to boost the president's popularity among rural voters ahead of elections in October.

In early May, Botswana's newly elected president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, made international headlines for giving three African leaders stools made of elephant feet. In June, he requested a review of the ban on hunting elephants.

Not forgetting that last September, the carcasses of 87 elephants were found close to a protected sanctuary in Botswana. They had been killed for their tusks.

Meanwhile in support of Elephant hunting, fewer than 400 elephant licenses will be granted annually, the government of Botswana announced on Twitter.

It said it was planning for "strategically placed human wildlife conflict fences" and compensation for damage caused by wildlife.

All migratory routes for animals that are not considered "beneficial" to Botswana's conservation efforts will be closed, including an antelope route to South Africa.

Botswana should learn from East African nations more so, Kenya on how to minimize human-wildlife conflict by use of livestock guarding dogs, fencing of conservation areas/protected areas, use of chain-link fences around homesteads, education and awareness creation, livestock compensation schemes, improving livestock husbandry and relocation of problem animals among other methods.

"Hunting is however an archaic way to address human-wildlife conflict and should therefore be shunned given sports hunting or killing of innocent animals is not a long term solution for tourism and conserving this endangered beautiful animal."

Chris Diaz is a director at Bidco Africa and a conservationist.

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