Botswana: Raffled Elephant Hunts Backfire on Community – Conservationists

Feb 16, 2020 | News

By Charan Saunders, All Africa

CAPE TOWN: Unethical hunting has exposed a community to dangerous, aggressive elephants rather than solving Human Elephant Conflict (HEC).

Following the recent killing of a collared elephant, along with four others in shootings in North Western Botswana, there has been a “noticeable increase in aggressive behaviour and two near-fatal charges of resident community members since November”, according to the Kalahari Wildlands Trust (KWT) who run a community conservation project in NG3 where the killing took place. 

A total of 8 citizen elephant hunting quotas were raffled to wealthy hunters against the wishes of the community.

KWT report that the affected community repeatedly wrote to and met with government in an effort to stop the hunting, citing the following:

– No consultation with affected community stakeholders had yet taken place;

–  Hunting in NG3 was against the wishes of resident communities as it threatens their conservation / tourism activities & goals;

–  NG3’s existing, drought-stressed wildlife populations could not sustain the proposed offtake levels;

–  It would cause an increase in aggressive behaviour in resident elephant populations thereby posing a danger to residents and tourists

Following subsequent interaction with government, no hunting will be allowed in NG3 in 2020, however there is a need to stop hunting in other areas such as NG2 and NG8, to create safe corridors to allow migration from Khaudom in Namibia to the Okavango delta. These areas not only provide critical water and grazing for elephants, but also possible tourism opportunities for these remote communities.

The 2014 moratorium on elephant hunting which was lifted last year was seen by many as an attempt to regain the rural vote in the October elections, after the hunting season was specially extended to 30 November. 

It began with the allocation of 72 elephant licenses by special concession, 86 raffled off to affluent citizens and 200 intended for the Open or International market – a total of 358 elephants.

The raffles for citizen licences saw up to 6,000 applicants competing for just 8 licences in one area and controversially, among the raffle winners was Pearl Markus, wife of the agricultural minister (who proposed the reinstatement of hunting in 2018). 

In addition to the 358 hunting permits, a further 386 elephants were poached last year. Such a large-scale loss of bull elephants in what is considered to be their greatest refuge is unsustainable if poaching continues at the same rate.  

Out of an estimated population of 130,000, only 20,600 are mature bulls, with only 6,000 being 35 years or older and reproductively mature. These bulls are typically larger, have bigger tusks and are targeted by hunters. The combination of poaching and hunting means 12% of this genetically critical component of the population will be killed if poaching continues at the same rate, well over the 8% threshold indicative of a declining population. 

The new Botswana government is busy strengthening ties with the international hunting fraternity. Representatives of Botswana’s new government attended the African Wildlife Consultative Forum hosted by Safari Club International and in an address to the Dallas Safari Club convention and sporting expo, the Botswana minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism expressed eagerness to resume hunting. According to Botswana Safari News, President Mokgweetsi Masisi is scheduled to attend the Safari Club International annual convention in February this year, where he will receive the SCI award for International Legislator of the year. 

The reintroduction of hunting is going against increasing calls within the international community to ban trophy hunting. The importation of elephant trophies is banned in Australia and the Netherlands.

The US state of California has banned African hunting trophies and the Cecil Act, currently before the US Congress, seeks to ban trophy imports unless a benefit to conservation can be proved. A campaign is currently underway to ban trophies in the UK, with Queen Elizabeth II stating “For the first time, environmental principles will be enshrined in law” such as legislation that will “promote and protect the welfare of animals, including banning imports from trophy hunting.”

In a clear message to the hunting industry after the killing of the collared elephant, professional hunter Michael Lee Potter had his license revoked indefinitely and citizen hunter, Kevin Sharp, forfeited his license for three years. A media release by Botswana’s government stated that “killing of collared animals is not permitted under any circumstances and appropriate measures shall be taken against transgressors including revocation of their licenses”. 

While the reintroduction to hunting was seen as a way to gain the rural vote, it comes against increasing awareness of minorities rights and a wave of international anti-hunting sentiment. 

By reintroducing hunting, which generally contributes only 1.9% this figure of tourism revenue per annum, Botswana has taken a step backwards and may be harming their $2bn tourism industry.

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