By Antony Sguazzin – Bloomberg
The environment and tourism minister of Botswana, the nation with the world’s biggest population of elephants, called for Southern African countries to agree on a common approach to control populations of the animal to counter criticism from the international community.
Kitso Mokaila spoke at the opening of a conference on elephant management in the Botswanan town of Kasane, which will culminate in a heads of state meeting on Tuesday, as his government is pushing to lift an elephant hunting ban and is considering a range of measures from selective “cropping” of elephants to culling. Critics, including former President Ian Khama, say the drive is geared to win rural votes in an October election and could damage tourism, which accounts for a fifth of the economy.
Mokaila said the number of elephants in Botswana has surged to 160,000 from 55,000 in 1991, increasing conflict between the animals, which at times destroy crops and kill villagers, and farmers. While an issues paper distributed at the conference suggested a range of measures, it said culling wasn’t a viable option, partly because it would negatively affect tourism. Most of Botswana’s elephants live in the country’s north east and regularly cross into Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, which have large populations of their own.
“People lose lives, crops and agricultural infrastructure and other property which are destroyed by elephants,” Mokaila said, according to a copy of the speech. “This cannot be tolerated and it will be a failure on our part if we don’t address this state of affairs.”
Still, Mokaila said, any attempts to control the population invite “a backlash,” fueled by Western media.
“It is my fervent desire that we continue to speak with one voice when it comes to our regional elephants,” he said. “It is evident that our arguments for sustainable utilization of our wildlife resources, which we have in abundance, are being countered on multiple fronts.”