Earlier this month we reported on Zimbabwe selling its elephants to China and Dubai in their so-called population control strategy. We did indicate that Botswana was one of the countries alongside Namibia and Zambia that have been calling for the global ban on ivory trade to be relaxed on the grounds of the growing number of elephants in some regions. That stated, it should therefore not come as a surprise that Botswana had actually followed through with its plan and lifted the hunting ban that it had introduced in 2014 under Khama's regime.
It is a known fact that Botswana has one of the biggest elephant population in the world with more than 135,000 elephants roaming freely in its parks and ranges - a fact that is attributed to its ban on elephant hunting that has been in place for the last five years. But now that the ban has been lifted, conservationists are worried that the population of elephants and other wildlife will begin to decline.
The government has been keen to defend its decision arguing that the lifting of the ban was due to the 'number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing' as well as predators 'causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers'.
It is important to note that the lifting of the blanket ban was not restricted to elephant hunting. An official at the Botswana environment ministry who confirmed this to AFP stated that:
It is all other animals, but we will specify in a press conference today which exact animals will be listed for hunting. Some animals are endangered so we can't hunt them."
The director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Otisitwe Tiroyamodimo is on record having constantly reiterated the need to manage the 'growing' elephant populations. In February when he spoke to the BBC, he had this to say:
The number of the elephants has increased - at the same time the human population also increased, and there has been demand for more land."
The director and Botswana Environment Ministry have sought to reassure its citizens and the rest of the world that the government will ensure the 'reinstatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner', pursuant to the law and regulations. However conservationists and animal rights activists have not been persuaded, terming the move as 'horrifying' and 'short-sighted'.
According to the London-based Humane Society International:
the horrifying decision... will send shock waves throughout the conservation world. Resuming... hunting is not only morally questionable and flies in the face of all international efforts to protect these giants, but it will also likely damage Botswana's hugely valuable tourism industry. We implore Botswana's government to think again."
While many have reacted angrily at the government's decision, others have backed the move stating that the ban had negatively affected people who drew their livelihood from hunting such as farmers. Many who have applauded the scrapping of the ban concur with renowned controversial Zimbabwean big game hunter Ron Thomson (think of him what you may) who has often defended his hunting career as a way to manage animal populations that would otherwise destroy the ecosystem. Thomson who has killed over 5000 elephants, hundreds of lions, and leopards once stated:
I'm totally unrepentant, a hundred – ten thousand – times over for any of the hunting I've done because that's not the problem. The problem is we've got a bunch of so-called experts from the West telling us what to do. I'm a trained university ecologist – I must surely know something about this."
Interestingly, the WWF policy is in line with some of Mr. Thomson's thinking. According to the WWF:
In certain limited and rigorously controlled cases... scientific evidence has shown that trophy hunting can be an effective conservation tool as part of a broad mix of strategies."
Many groups in Botswana have also welcomed the move, saying it would help local communities as trophy hunters pay large sums to shoot an animal.
Speaking to AFP, Amos Mabuku who is the chairman of the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust stated:
We are very happy that hunting will be back. The people were the ones who had been bearing the brunt of co-existing with these animals - we have lost brothers, we have lost our crops, we have lost our cattle due to this. Livelihoods are dependent on the revenue from trophy hunting... controllable hunting, not poaching."
While many governments such as Botswana and Zimbabwe argue that the increasing elephant population places tremendous pressure on the environmental capacity to support them and other wildlife, Campaign to End Trophy Hunting has been keen to demonstrate that the populations of African elephants are dwindling not increasing. In their report, they argue that since the 1980s, the African elephant populations in southern Africa have declined from 1.3 million to just over 400,000 today. Other experts say the number of elephants in Botswana has almost tripled over the last 30 years, and that the population could now be over 160,000. It, therefore, makes us wonder who is fooling who.
Are Elephants being used to score political points?
When Botswana's former President Ian Khama stood down last year, President Mokgweetsi Masisi took over with a public review commencing five months later. The former President Khama is an environmentalist who introduced the ban on hunting during his tenure in office as a way to curb trophy hunting. As someone who is keen to step out of the shadow of his predecessor, insiders close to President Masisi have said that the incumbent is keen on making his mark whichever way he can. They note that with looming elections in October, he wants to solidify his support base by bagging the rural voters.
They contend that this is just but a political strategy in a series of many to come. Since the incumbent took over from former President Khama, lawmakers from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) have been lobbying to overturn the ban, saying wild animal numbers have become unmanageable in some areas. Given that the incumbent and his predecessor have not had the best of political relationships, it is not surprising that President Masisi is intent on trying to repackage himself and endear himself to the masses by erasing Khama's legacy.
While the government itself has dismissed this allegation, many conservationists are not convinced. According to Jason Bell of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW),
This is a political move and not in the best interests of conservation in Botswana. Elephants are being used as political scapegoats, but at a huge cos Hunting will do nothing to alleviate human-elephant conflict. One has to question what the real reasons are."
Read more tweets from Botswana government here: https://twitter.com/BWGovernment?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1131467435666747392&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ladbible.com%2Fnews%2Fnews-botswana-lifts-ban-on-elephant-hunting-to-manage-population-20190523
Header Image Credit: PA and Rebecca Shephard