Botswana is home to an estimated 130,000 elephants. The country is also a lead member of the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), formed to control ivory trafficking. A blanket hunting ban (including elephant hunting) was introduced in 2014 by then-president Ian Khama, a keen environmentalist, to reverse a decline in the population of wild animals.
But after 5 years, Elephant hunting has recently resumed. The government of Botswana said, despite intense lobbying by some conservation advocates that they will continue the ban.
The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana have made a decision to lift the hunting suspension. In recent months, Botswana has come under immense international pressure to preserve the ban.
The decision was met with outrage from some in the international community. Celebrities have waded into the debate and called for a boycott of tourism to Botswana unless the hunting ban was maintained.
Ian Khama, the country’s former president, not only stopped hunting but also tried to build a consensus among African countries to end ivory trade. But after Mokgweetsi Masisi became the president, the government initiated consultations to revive hunting and ivory trade. It also hosted an elephant summit, for better management of elephants. So some believe the resumption of hunting is an attempt by him to placate an increasing number of BDP MPs. Moreover, Mr Tshekedi, Botswana’s environment minister (also Mr. Khama’s brother) was dismissed in December after clashing with the new president over the hunting debate.
In 2018, some of the elephant corpses had begun to decay, their skins dried stiff over bony carcasses. Others appeared to have been freshly killed, partly covered by bushes in an attempt to hide them from view.
The tusks of 87 animals, which were counted during aerial surveys over the past few months in Botswana, had been chopped off — evidence of what conservationists are calling one of the biggest slaughters in recent years. Mr Chase, director of the charity Elephants Without Borders said he had never seen so many dead elephants in one go. Then he wrote in a report that the tally was “indicative of a poaching frenzy which has been ongoing in the same area for a long time.” Scientists and Botswana’s government said that the number of deaths attributed to poachers, while unknown, had been vastly overstated. They have not determined the cause of death in all 87 cases and have accused Elephants Without Borders of trying to preserve the Khama family’s influence by making the claim and ascribed a cause of death after surveying the scene from the air.
Botswana has about 27,000 elephants living outside wildlife management areas that often come into conflict with farmers, so one of the reasons for the decision to end the hunting ban is the damage of it to the livelihoods of people in rural areas because elephants often wander into farms and villages to eat their crops and trample their fields, sometimes with deadly consequences .
The government also said that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks was ill-equipped to deal with animal control issues, leading to long response times in dealing with animals that posed a threat.
Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said the committee determined that with the hunting suspension in place, “human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing.” The committee’s “general consensus from those consulted was that the hunting ban should be lifted,” the ministry said.
Advocates for limited trophy hunting say that it can generate income for communities, which could in turn support conservation efforts.
A wildlife veterinarian and consultant based in Gaborone, Botswana named Erik Verreynne said “we’re likely going to save more after sacrificing 700 elephants per year”.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are about 415,000 African elephants in the wild, spread over 37 nations. but in Africa, “an elephant is being killed by poachers on average every fifteen minutes. Botswana is the last refuge for these elephants, and suddenly that refuge is going to start hunting them. It’s a tragedy”, said a conservation journalist and author of “The Last Elephants”. Their population is considered “vulnerable,” down from three to five million in the last century, largely because of unregulated hunting.
Botswana’s general elections are set to take place in October, and the hunting ban has become a campaign issue, particularly in rural areas where the elephant populations are more prominent. But the government did not immediately provide details of its new policy, including how many elephants it would allow hunters to kill, and whether hunting would be allowed to resume immediately.