Global outcry as Botswana considers lifting elephant hunting ban

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By Kerry Hayes

The Government of Botswana is at a crossroads on whether to lift the ban placed on elephant hunting in 2014, or leave it in place.

A report submitted by the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Hunting Ban Social Dialogue, which was commissioned by Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, has put forward the recommendation that the ban be lifted, with certain conditions in place. These include:

• Developing a legal framework to manage culling within its historic range.

• For the Department of Wildlife and National Parks to conduct an effective community outreach programme to facilitate peaceful coexistence between humans and elephants, including strategically placed fences in key hotspot elephant activity areas inhabited by humans.

• Compensation be paid for property and crops etc. damaged by elephants.

• Certain migratory routes not beneficial to the country’s conservation efforts be closed.

• Regular but limited elephant culling be introduced and establishment of elephant meat canning, including production of pet food and processing into other by products.

A powerful outcry has come from the conservation community, sparking a global petition to prevent the hunting ban from being lifted by Masisi, which suggests that lifting the ban would “promote and fund a series of measures to drastically and aggressively reduce the elephant population across all the nationally protected areas of the country, which alone are hosting 37% of the African elephant population”.

Two opposing schools of thought have been put forward in the report:

Proponents of the hunting ban postulate that it is a good and noble conservation effort which will create a conducive environment for increased wildlife populations;

Those against the hunting ban are of the view that hunting is a good wildlife management tool if properly implemented.

Masisi has been adamant in media commentary as well as on social media that he will not be intimidated by international pressure to keep the hunting ban. “I have offered them some of the elephants and they are welcome to help us reduce their population. I am not going to be intimidated while wildlife kills our people,” he tweeted.

However, the President faces public concerns that Botswana’s international reputation as an eco-tourism destination may be tainted by what advocates against the lifting of the ban are labelling a ‘bloodbath’, warning government that a destination heavily invested in as a photographic industry, that then turns global iconic symbols into pet food, could become the object of international condemnation, which would in time negatively impact tourism to the country.

CEO of the Wilderness Foundation Africa, Dr Andrew Muir, told Tourism Update that a problem could exist in the mixed message of promoting Botswana as a photographic tourism destination versus a hunting tourism destination. 

“The two cannot co-exist. That would be my concern from a conservation issue and a perception issue. My other concern would be that you have communicated to the world why you were doing this for conservation, and are still communicating this – are you saying that the species have recovered to a point that you can actually justify sustainable hunting? And my concern with that is that with the species decimation throughout Africa in the big picture, with the mass extinction predictions for Africa, then how can this be justified in Botswana? One has to take it into context of what’s happening on the continent, and on the continent there is mass poaching of wildlife. So my question is: do we have enough sustainability to justify hunting over and above the poaching?”

The government has to balance lifting the hunting ban to win votes against the impact it may have on Botswana's international reputation as a luxury safari destination.

Botswana is home to 130,000 elephants – a third of the total number in Africa – which reports believe is reaching above the country’s threshold where elephants and local human populations will begin encroaching on each other’s habitats. “Elephants can be destructive when they encroach on to farmland and move though villages – destroying crops and sometimes killing people,” said a report by the BBC, so managing the elephant population while educating communities on the longer-term benefits of conservation and co-existence are paramount, added the Sub-Committee’s report. – Tourism Update

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