By Mpho Tebele
In a sign that Botswana is likely to climb down on its earlier official position not to convince parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to legalise commercial ivory trade, the Botswana Parliament has lifted a ban on elephant hunting.
This was revealed by the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism when it stated that “it is indeed true that Parliament has adopted a motion asking the government to consider lifting the ban on hunting and shooting of elephants in areas that are not designated as game reserves and national parks”.
The ministry’s assistant public relations officer Akanyang Mmoi said prior to the adoption of the motion, the government had already appointed a Cabinet committee to consult with communities on the hunting ban.
Mmoi quoted the chairperson of the committee, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, the Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, as saying consultations with the public will kick-start after the adjournment of the current Parliament sitting.
However, Mmoi said, “In view of all these developments, the public is informed that the ban on hunting and shooting of elephants is still in force.”
Botswana is home to more than a third of the elephants left in Africa and unlike many of its Southern African neighbours, it banned trophy hunting in 2014.
Botswana’s former President Ian Khama had joined President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Ali Bongo of Gabon in signing a petition with close to 1.1 million signatures calling for the European Union to close its ivory trade. But it appears Khama’s predecessor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, is on a mission to reverse some of the decisions that he made. The decision by Masisi’s administration to consult the nation on the hunting ban also comes on the heels of his decision to withdraw military grade arms from the country’s anti-poaching units on patrol along the country’s borders. The move to recall what it called “arms of war” from the anti-poaching units has been hailed as a step in the right direction, in another move seen as President Masisi’s attempt to right Khama’s wrongs.
Meanwhile, when debating the motion to lift hunting ban on elephants, Vice President Slumber Tsogwane said human-wildlife conflict had been rife over the years primarily due to an overlap between the human and wildlife populations.
According to Tsogwane, such conflicts occurred when either the need or behaviour of wildlife impacted negatively on human livelihoods or when the humans pursue goals that impacted negatively on the needs of wildlife.
He said the increase in human population had also resulted in human encroachment into marginal lands inhabited by wildlife.
Tabling his motion, Member of Parliament Kostantinos Markus argued that the hunting ban had not only contributed to an increase in the number of elephants but also contributed to a rise in poaching. He said the elephant population had increased such that elephants were now found in areas where they were previously rare.
The legislator noted that while Botswana is faced with the challenge of wildlife decline, it is not the case with all wildlife species in the country.
“The elephant population in Botswana has been on the increase since 1992,” he observed.
The growth in the elephant population in the country, he said, was as a result of their migration into Botswana from neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Another MP, Samson Guma said it was evident that the expansion of the human society had forced people to infringe into wildlife habitats and convert the land to uses incompatible with wildlife.
According to Guma, smallholder farmers living along the Botswana/Zimbabwe border fence had struggled for years with elephants that regularly invaded their land and destroyed their crops.
Namibia and Zimbabwe, which also have a huge population of elephants, are of the view that the elephant population in Southern Africa has increasingly led to human-wildlife conflict, especially in rural communities.
They have also argued that they should be allowed to dispose of their ivory stockpiles, which have accumulated over the years from natural elephant deaths, and that the proceeds should be used to support wildlife conservation efforts.
Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe wanted the 2016 CITES conference resolution to be amended to allow international trade in raw ivory for commercial purposes to resume. The amendment requested that the CITES Standing Committee authorise this decision if certain criteria were met by the respective exporting and importing states.
Namibia and Zimbabwe had also proposed that their elephants be removed from CITES protection listings altogether. But CITES upheld the ban on ivory at the conference.
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, lifted a ban on elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, a ban that was put in place by former President Barack Obama.
But Khama condemned the recent move by the Trump administration, accusing it of encouraging poaching.