By Dereck Joubert, Opinion / The Daily Maverick
In a world where global understanding of true conservation and the interconnectedness of all life on the planet is growing at an exponential rate, Botswana cannot afford to be seen as an increasingly retrogressive force on the planet.
Botswana’s unique natural wildlife heritage is one of the country’s greatest treasures. These vast, unspoiled wilderness areas are not only the cultural and environmental heritage of the Batswana people, but they are also primary areas in conserving increasingly fragile global ecosystems.
The people of Botswana are justifiably proud of their culture and of their exquisite natural heritage. They are also extremely aware of their country’s progress after more than 50 years of independence. Since 1966, Botswana has seen an average of 5% growth per year. Its per capita income has grown from some US$80 per year at independence in 1966 to more than $8,250 in 2018, according to World Bank data.
According to Unesco, it also has a largely successful basic education system that has some 90% of children enrolled in primary school and sees more than 96% of children go on to secondary school, leaving the country with one of the highest literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa at 81%.
Botswana’s greatest challenge, however, is unemployment, which has been running stubbornly high for years at between 18% and 20%. This is partly due to an over-reliance on diamond production and a lack of industrial growth.
Botswana, though, remains one of the most stable, educated, democratic and prosperous countries in Africa. For all the decades of independence, this dependable stability has also seen wise and compassionate stewardship of the country’s wonderful natural splendours.
People from all over the world have come to Botswana to marvel at its unspoiled wildernesses and at the vast herds of animals that populate them. The World Travel and Tourism Council for 2019 (WTTC) reports that one in seven of all dollars in the country comes from tourism, and it generates 84,000 jobs or nearly 9% of total employment, making up more than 13% of the entire economy.
Wildlife tourism is by far the largest drawcard for foreign tourists. Again, the WTTC reports that 73% of spending came from international travellers and only 27% from regional holidaymakers.
Clearly, the country’s pristine wildlife reserves are more than a source of great pride and cultural history to Botswana’s people; they are an important source of economic prosperity and potential well-being.
However, the recent lifting of the ban on hunting, and specifically on elephant hunting, will endanger this critical natural and economic resource for Botswana.
Botswana’s own Tourism Statistics Report for 2017 (published March 2019) shows that, after visitors from South Africa and Zimbabwe (many of whom are day visitors visiting friends and relatives), the United States is the second-largest source of tourists to Botswana, making up some 26% of all visitors.
A poll of registered voters in the US released by Humane Society International shows that an overwhelmingly large number of Americans polled do not support hunting elephants in Botswana. Some 75% believe that elephants should not be killed for trophy hunting, while an even stronger number (78%) are convinced that elephants should not be culled.
Already there is a petition being circulated on the internet asking the Botswana government to bring back the ban on elephant hunting. This is clearly a negative development for the country’s image as an ecologically sound destination.
Many argue that there are too many elephants in Botswana and that hunting them will help to reduce an excess population that is increasing. However, the African Elephant Status Report (AESR) published in 2016 shows that, in fact, the population of elephants in the country has decreased by some 15%.
Perceptions of human and animal conflict is a major driver of this lifting of the hunting ban, but not nearly enough work is being done to find non-lethal solutions to the problem, like, for instance, this study on appropriate land use patterns in Ngamiland for humans and elephants to live together.
Clearly, Botswana’s reputation as a country where animals are protected and treated ethically is already taking massive blows. In a world where global understanding of true conservation and the interconnectedness of all life on the planet is growing at an exponential rate, Botswana cannot afford to be seen as an increasingly retrogressive force on the planet. We should seek solutions that allow humans and animals to share our pristine wilderness without danger to humans or the necessity to kill them.
Such an approach would make us global leaders in a world where we increasingly understand that our survival as a species is linked to the survival of all life on the planet.