by Don Pinnock
As tourism is a mainstay of Botswana’s economy, lifting the hunting ban could, the poll suggests, have severe economic consequences and damage Botswana’s international reputation.
As the Botswana government rumbles towards the lifting of the ban on hunting its famous wildlife, an authoritative poll in the United States, from which the second greatest number of foreign tourists come, has found overwhelming public disapproval of the plan.
The poll to protect elephants
The US poll was conducted by the Remington Research Group for Humane Society International. Three in four respondents considered it important to protect elephants from trophy hunting, 78% did not support the proposed culling and 73% believed that if trophy hunting and elephants culls were started, Botswana’s image as a leader in wildlife conservation would be harmed.
The poll follows a Botswana cabinet committee recommendation in February to lift the hunting ban and start culling ‘surplus’ elephants, despite the country’s known transboundary elephant population.
The tourism industry and communities benefitting from photographic tourism have yet to be consulted despite claims of extensive consultation. Tourism operators are expecting to be consulted.
There’s more to it than meets the eye
However it seems that the decision has already been made as at a meeting in Gabarone, Botswana’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Kitso Mokaila, insisted that his country would go ahead with its decision on hunting.
‘We will not back off and change our minds in terms of what we are going to do. As HATAB (Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana) you must remember where your bread is buttered and support us”
Botswana banned trophy hunting in 2014. After the ban went into effect, the country became an increasingly popular tourist destination for travelers who want to support ecotourism and the country’s iconic wildlife.
In 2018, travel and tourism in Botswana experienced 3.4% growth, contributing US$2.52 billion or 13.4% to the country’s economy and supporting 84 000 jobs or 8.9% of the country’s total employment. Three quarters of tourist spend came from international travelers.
According to HSI, ‘with tourism now the second largest contributor to the country’s GDP and a significant employer, reinstating trophy hunting and starting elephant culls could hurt the country’s economy.’
In conjunction with the release of the poll results, more than 87 000 people worldwide signed HSI’s petition to Masisi asking him to keep the trophy hunting ban in place and to reject plans to cull the country’s elephants.
HSI also led a sign-on letter from 33 animal welfare and wildlife conservation organizations from around the world with similar appeals, acknowledging human-wildlife conflict but citing non-lethal mitigation strategies as being far more effective in the long-term.
‘Millions of foreign tourists travel to Botswana to shoot majestic wild animals, not with guns, but with their cameras,’ said Iris Ho, HSI’s specialist for wildlife programmes and policy.
‘Wildlife watching and photographic tourism is on the rise around the world, outstripping the revenue from trophy hunting and the number of trophy hunters by a wide margin.
‘The current ban on trophy hunting is a win-win policy for Botswana’s economy, for the local community and for the animals. There cannot be a more drastic shift for a country known as a safe haven for elephants to become an elephant canning factory for pet food.
‘With poaching of elephants across Africa on the rise, legalized hunting and culling would be a severe blow to Africa’s rapidly declining elephant population.’
A local community NGO, the Ngamiland Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (NCONGO), countered this view. It sent a letter to Masisi in support of hunting, saying it would boost tourism.
‘The re-introduction of hunting,’ it said, ‘will go a long way in alleviating rural poverty by re-introducing tourism benefits lost in 2014 when the hunting moratorium was initiated.
It added that ‘as communities, we do not take kindly to those who are attacking our Government and initiatives meant to re-introduce hunting and uplift our livelihoods and reduce human-wildlife conflicts in our local areas.’ It did not provide data to support its claims.
Surveys show that many visitors choose Botswana as their safari destination specifically because of its firm anti-hunting stance. Leading tour operators have stated that the proposal goes against everything the country stands for and its implementation would be regressive and could harm.