By Dr. Louise de Waal – Conservation Action Trust
The Botswanan government announced yesterday that it was “lifting the hunting suspension in an orderly and ethical manner” – a decision that seemed inevitable, but nevertheless is an enormous blow for Botswana’s tourism and conservation reputation.
Since President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s announcement last year proposing lifting the hunting ban, the process has seemed a well-orchestrated election campaign, casting hunting as the solution to Human Elephant Conflict (HEC), rural poverty, and elephant population control.
The Botswana Democratic Party has been in power since independence in 1966, but dropped to a record low of 46% of the voters’ support in the last election. By lifting the hunting ban, it is believed that Masisi hopes to retain the rural votes that he desperately needs to win the elections in October.
The main justification for lifting the hunting ban has been the supposedly increasing levels of Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC), particularly involving elephants. There is no doubt that HWC is a real problem to the people living with wildlife on a day-to-day basis, and this indeed needs to be addressed.
However, there is no research-based evidence that suggests HWC is actually increasing. Furthermore, trophy hunting can never and should never have such an impact on elephant or other wildlife densities that it would actually reduce HWC. Communities should be assisted in finding better and more sustainable ways to deal with elephants and other wildlife.
The government is now not only talking about lifting the ban on elephant hunting, but also predators, as the government claims predator numbers are also increasing.
Again, there is no scientific evidence to back up any of these statements. Many areas in Botswana are still trying to recover from overhunting in the 1980 to ‘90s, particularly of the lion population. The mature elephant bulls that would be of interest to the trophy hunter are under siege from increased poaching. with recent surveys indicating a material drop in numbers of bulls.
Masisi claims the hunting ban had negative impacts on the livelihood of local communities, which is to be expected, as the vast majority of ex-hunting blocks in Botswana were never successfully put out for tender, and hence were not occupied by the photographic tourism industry; a number were in fact retained by the existing hunting concessionaires.
Tourism, the second largest industry in Botswana, was barely consulted in Masisi’s Social Dialogue process, and has been cowed by statements such as “you know which side your bread is buttered on”.
Clare Doolan (Sales and Product Manager – Safari Destinations) says: “We believe more creative solutions need to be found for communities impacted by HEC, by giving these communities access to tourism revenue through diversification of the tourism product and increasing community participation.”