Botswana has lifted its ban on game hunting in the hope that its communities will benefit from this industry, as it attempts to enhance tourism and at the same time increase its protection of wildlife systems. Due to the increase in animal-human conflict in settlements adjacent to wildlife, the country has taken a decision that could bring prosperity but there are also sceptics who question the move.
On May 23rd, Felix Monggae, the acting Permanent Secretary of Tourism and Wildlife, announced the lifting of the suspension of hunting, stating, “Hunting will be allowed on a small, strictly controlled basis, with fewer than 400 licenses for elephants to be granted annually, as has been approved by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Priority will be given to community-based organisations (CBOs) and trusts in allocation of hunting quotas. Hunting will be reinstated only in designated Concession Hunting Areas (CHAs)”.
The Mokgweetsi Masisi government came to this decision after a Presidential Sub-Committee of Cabinet was set up to engage the various stakeholders on the ban on hunting, which was enforced in 2014 by the administration of former President Ian Khama. The committee found that there was an increase in human-elephant conflict, an increase in predators killing livestock and that the hunting suspension negatively affected communities. The committee stated that the general consensus was that hunting should be restored.
Botswana, which is home to a third of the world’s elephant population, has always been trophy hunting country but in 2013 then President Ian Khama imposed a ban on hunting, citing the increase in poaching of animals such as elephants, which leads to a decline in wildlife populations. However, communities and animal rights groups were against this move, which impoverished communities that no longer hosted tourists who would hunt and pay for hunting licenses which sustained communities. This ban is said to have only fanned poaching in the wild parks, instead of preventing the illegal killing of animals.
A game hunting advocate who wishes to remain anonymous views the lifting of the ban as a victory for Botswana, since "game hunting had been part of our tourism experience for decades and brought much needed dollars to communities. The ban led to a slump in incomes. There are critics who only look at the negative side but the government has mechanisms in place to ensure that there is transparency in hunting. How can people out there determine what we should do with our resources?"
Hunting will be confined to species that are classified as game animals in Schedule 7 of the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act.
National Parks Spokesperson Alice Mmolawa said that national parks would benefit from the policy, as "revenues accrued by communities and private sector will benefit wildlife conservation and management through fostering human wildlife coexistence, private sector and community anti-poaching initiatives and wildlife population monitoring and other research."
Anthropologist Nadia Farage, however, believes that game hunting will only decimate already delicate populations of wild animals: "Game hunting is actually a colonial practice, which is alien to how wildlife was protected and cared for by communities. Allowing this would not stop poaching, in fact, illegally poached animals could actually be laundered through this. When it comes to animal-human conflict we must be creative in tackling the problem, in which both humans and animals win, not one versus the other."
“Resorting to killing is a bloody policy that should not be supported. This will not have an impact on human animal incidents. It’s a political move,” said former President Ian Khama in an interview with CNN. He accused his political nemesis of ignoring the consequences of such a move, saying this is rightly timed to hoodwink the electorate, who will vote in October 2019. This lifting of the hunting ban has also attracted international criticism.
“When my government announced that Botswana would be lifting its ban on elephant hunting, many people around the world, but especially in the US and UK, reacted with shock and horror. How could we do such a thing? What could possibly justify the wholesale slaughter of such noble and intelligent creatures? Is it really true that we intend to turn these magnificent animals into dog food?” said President Masisi in response to international criticism of the lifting of the ban.
“We in Botswana, who live with and alongside the elephants, yield to no one in our affection and concern for them, and we would never condone, no less promote, any of the terrible things these questions imply are in the offing,” he continued, further stating that no culling of elephants is taking place and there will be no processing of elephant meat for consumption or pet food.
The real test of the change in policy is how effective it will be in the long run. One side of the argument says Botswana has a right to do what it wants with its resources, while the opposing view is that animals are not resources but ecologically important beings and must be protected. Does the revenue from game from big cash customers equal the revenue brought in by ecological or conventional safari tourism?