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The political party thematic debate in Maun on Wednesday elicited mixed reactions, but the general consensus was that the overpopulation of elephants was impacting negatively on other species and contributing to an increase in the human/wildlife conflict.
With Maun being Botswana's tourism hub, the debate, which was broadcast live on Btv, focused on tourism and human/wildlife conflict.
The debate attracted representatives of all political parties contesting for next month's general elections.
One thing that the debaters agreed on was the increased animal population and the high level of human/wildlife conflict, which was becoming unmanageable in some areas.
Botswana Patriotic Front's Mr Oboetswe Gabotlale stressed the importance of devising a holistic management approach to the challenge.
He said although culling might be considered as one of the recommended management strategies, it could lead to illicit ivory trade.
He advised that teaching the communities about peaceful coexistence with the animals could also help.
He said there was growing concerns of poaching in some countries, hence the fleeing of elephants to Botswana, which had proven to be a safe haven for the animals.
Umbrella for Democratic Change Mr Dumelang Saleshando said his party believed in the evidence based policy intervention strategy.
He said in 2012 a study was conducted and it indicated that there was a steep decline in wildlife populations.
He said between 1996 and 2012 there was a 95 per cent decline in ostrich numbers, 90 per cent of wildebeest, and 81 per cent of warthogs and kudu numbers.
He said his party had resolved that the impasse could be addressed by creating more space in the wildlife management areas.
He said the transfrontier park between Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia should be extended to augment its carrying capacity to ease the burden of overpopulation on Botswana.
Mr Saleshando said there was collapsed agricultural acitivities in some areas due to the wild animals conflict with the farming communities.
Botswana Movement for Democracy's Jeff Matlapeng said the challenge to address elephant issue was that Botswana was subjected to drastic decisions made by external forces and that local decision-makers were conflicted.
He gave an example of the communities of the Chobe enclave, especially residents of Parakarungu, Satau and Kachikau, who were not consulted when some of the decisions on the management strategies were made.
Mr Matlapeng said some of the management decisions needed to be informed by research.
Botswana Democratic Party's Mr Bagalatia Arone said during the consultative meetings that were held Batswana supported government's management plans on elephants.
He said government's priority was the welfare of its citizens, not wildlife as some people would like to believe.
Mr Arone said government was also involved in public education campaigns about the impact of the conflict on farmers' livelihoods.
He said lifting of the hunting ban was a management tool and that the new hunting quotas were to provide communities with an opportunity to participate in the international market.
Mr Arone appreciated the support Botswana was getting from the countries in the KAZA (Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area).
He said currently Angola had gazetted the largest national park, which would assist in the movement of elephants in the area.
Mr Jacob Mahupe of the Alliance for Progressives said government ignored the 1991 study, which indicated that there should have been a 3 000 annual decrease in the population of 50 000 animals to keep the annual range at 60 000.
He said his party supported culling as a management strategy and said predators such as lions should be included in the hunting quota.
He advised government to tell the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) the truth about the elephant situation in Botswana.
For his part, Mr Gaontebale Mokgosi of the Real Alternative Party advised government to always involve communities in tourism policy-making initiatives.
He also said as part of the strategy, government had to tighten anti-poaching structures and plough back money on tourism investment.
Mr Mokgosi said CITES had unscrupulous motives behind some its decisions.
He said fundamental democracy necessitated that as politicians they should hold different opinions, but that should not be a threat to tourism investment.
<i>Source : BOPA</i>