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Split opinions after Botswana elephant hunting ban is lifted

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. But after 5 years, Elephant hunting has recently resumed. The government knew they were courting controversy, so they even hired a public relations firm specialising in Hollywood celebrities to spin public opinion to its side.

According to present president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, the decision to end the hunting ban was obvious. Because of the damage of it to the livelihoods of people in rural areas,  elephants often roam into farms and villages to eat their crops and trample their fields, sometimes with deadly consequences. Rural farmers have borne the brunt of the near-tripling of the elephant population since 1991, to 130,000. About 50 Batswanas have been killed by elephants since the ban was implemented in 2014 and hundreds of reports of property damage have been filed. “A lot of people are being killed by these animals, even the environment itself is being eroded by elephants,” said Kosta Markus, a ruling party MP from the north near the elephant-rich Okavango Delta, who proposed the legislation ending the curbs. “Botswana is a democratic state that should look after its people. Otherwise, there should be a zoo in Botswana and no people.”

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Botswana 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, so Mr. Masisi needs rural support. That didn’t stop the backlash. Masisi was pilloried by everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to his own predecessor. Jason Bell, vice-president conservation and animal rescue at the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Cape Town said : “Once again, elephants are being used as political scapegoats, but at a huge cost.”

One purpose of ending the prohibition is to raise revenue through fees of thousands of dollars on trophy hunters, some of which can be channelled via licences to the communities that live side by side with the animals, the government says. Botswana will now issue 400 trophy-hunting licenses annually. (This is the number permitted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, a mouthful of an international agreement designed to ensure that, whatever we do commercially with wild animals and plants do not threaten their survival; during Khama’s administration, it should be noted, Botswana chose to not exercise its right to those 400 elephant trophy kills.) Masisi also rescinded the shoot-to-kill anti-poaching policy and is advocating, together with neighbors Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, for the legal resumption of that bugaboo of the conservation world, the ivory trade.

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Former president, Ian Khama said ( promulgated while he was in office), “the ban was a very necessary and responsible thing to do as a government”. It was very complementary to our conservation ethos. Why they’ve decided to change as far as I am concerned is more to do with the fact that’s it an election year than anything else.” But after that, Masisi posted a message on Twitter to justify his decision and to dismiss early proposals, made in countrywide hearings, that elephants be culled en masse and made into pet food. On June 2, he expressed horror that a young Batswana had been killed by an elephant.

“The hunting industry and the number of elephants that will be taken will not reduce the problem, it will improve the tolerance as communities get some revenue, The communities that live where conflict with elephants is highest are being unfairly marginalised because of western conservation ideology.” said Debbie Peake, a spokesperson for the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association, which represents ranchers who breed wildlife for meat and hunting.

Wild Elephants with relaxing music

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