Botswana to Proceed With Elephant Hunts Despite Red List

Elephants near Pom Pom Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Gaborone — Authorities in Botswana say the elephant hunting season will go ahead as planned, despite a world conservation body listing African elephants as endangered. Botswana's government argues its elephant population - the world's largest - is growing too fast and leading to human-wildlife conflict.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) this month listed Africa's Savannah elephants as endangered and its forest elephants as critically endangered.

But Botswana's Director of Wildlife and National Paks, Kabelo Senyatso said the authorized elephant hunts will begin on April 6 as planned.

Senyatso said his government uses IUCN's red list as one of the tools to implement conservation programs.

However, he said IUCN's latest report notes Botswana's elephant population is growing, not declining. The country has an estimated 130,000 elephants within its borders.

Senyatso said Botswana lifted a hunting ban in 2019, mainly to generate sustainable income for communities, and not as a way to control the elephant population.

The co-chairperson of the IUCN's Elephant Specialist Group, Ben Okita-Ouma, said the red list is meant to guide authorities as to the status of various species.

He said the organization's report acknowledges there are some countries where elephant populations are thriving.

"The entire African population has declined significantly. When it comes to specifics there are places that are probably doing ok than others. There are places that require much more intervention. Places like KAZA, we are seeing that population of savanna elephants are doing ok," he said.

KAZA is shorthand for Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, home to the world's largest elephant populations.

Conservationist Neil Fitt said the move to declare the two elephant species as under extreme threat is long overdue.

The IUCN blames poaching and habitat fragmentation for the decline in populations.

However, Fitt argues Botswana has a stable elephant population which means the country can continue with its elephant management programs.

"The ones in Botswana and KAZA are still extremely stable if not increasing over the geographically area. I am not too sure how that will affect the hunting in Botswana and Namibia. Usually IUCN allows the countries to manage their own populations as long as they have scientific facts and if the population is increasing or stable," he said.

The IUCN's African Elephant Specialist Group found that in the past 50 years, savanna elephants have declined by more than 60 percent, while forest elephants are down by an alarming 86 percent in just three decades.

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