By Bob Koigi, Nairobi – Fair Planet
The recent decision by the Botswana government to lift an earlier ban on elephant hunting has set the country on a dangerous path which is likely to see a resurgence in poaching and revival of ivory trade while reversing hard earned conservation gains.
The Southern Africa country remains a revered sanctuary for African elephants that are estimated at 130,000, the largest population in Africa.
Former President Ian Khama, a dedicated conservationist launched a spirited campaign to protect the elephants by suspending hunting and introducing a shoot to kill anti-poaching policy that gave the military powers to take down suspected poachers.
Numerous initiatives to protect the animals have always paid off, with the population of the elephants growing to 129,000 in 2014, up from 80,000 in 1996. This, at a time when poaching and habitat loss saw a huge decline across the rest of Africa with the years 2012 to 2014 being the worst where some 100,000 elephants were slaughtered according to reports.
Now the current Botswana president Mokgweetsi Masisi has backpedaled on these hard won gains with the stroke of a pen in what he attributes to growing cases of human-elephant conflicts caused by rising elephant numbers and a need to monetize conservation efforts. He has also rescinded the shoot to kill order on poachers. Yet none of these assertions have been backed by science or data with conservationists arguing that there is no marked population increase or escalated conflict with humans.
The latest decision comes from a president who recently grabbed international headlines for gifting three African leaders with stools made of elephant feet in a clear show of his disregard for conservation efforts. What the lifting of the ban now portends for a country where wildlife tourism is the biggest foreign exchange earner after diamonds is a spike in poaching to meet demand from the ivory market which will eventually lead to extinction of the elephants. The world shouldn’t just sit and watch. In the words of wildlife conservationist Paula Kahumbu, “Hunting is an outdated practice which has no place in the modern world.”