Humanosity says….Botswana has a problem – too many elephants so they have decided to issue hunting licences. This goes to the heart of the debate over conservation. What does a country do when a charismatic animal is causing such problems. Would this have made the news if we were talking about rats?
Botswana’s successful policy and record in protecting its elephant population is now putting it at odds with conservation groups. The country has the largest elephant population and is home to more than 130,000, more than double the government’s estimate of the number of elephants it can support.
The country convened a committee that included local authorities, NGOs and researchers to look at the problem and the general consensus was to recommend the reintroduction of hunting licences.
Botswana has largely escaped the effects of elephant poaching but it hasn’t escaped the effects of regional drought. This has made elephant populations wander further in their search for water and this has led to an upsurge of conflicts between the elephants and rural farmers.
In an interview with National Geographic earlier in 2019 the head of NGO Elephants Without Borders, Mike Chase expressed sympathy for the plight of rural farmers.
“Sharing their lives with a five-ton animal that threatens their lives, destroys their crops, damages their properties—I share their anguish. When you’ve tried all kinds of alternatives…and they’re still dangerous, the animal has to be destroyed. At least the communities should be able to benefit by letting a hunter come in and pay to do it,”
However, for many NGOs the worry is less about what might happen in Botswana but more about the impact on other elephant populations across the region.
“The whole world is turning away from hunting. It is increasingly seen as an archaic practice. This is very, very damaging to the image of Botswana as a global leader in elephant conservation,” said Dr Paula Kahumbu, an expert and activist based in Kenya.
The push towards for the issuing of hunting licences is said to be supported by the current President Mokgweetsi Masisi and goes against the policy implemented by the previous president Ian Khama. He introduced the ban in 2014 and is opposed to the new policy. According to Khama, the new move is about shoring upvotes in the rural areas where human-elephant conflicts are on the rise.
Masisi has said “We cannot continue to be spectators while others debate and take decisions about our elephants. The conflict between elephants and people is on the rise as the demand for land, for agriculture and settlements is growing”.
The move comes amid concerns from neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe who have huge stocks of ivory and would like to see the ivory market reopen so that they can cash in. Opponents of hunting believe that this goes to the core of the problem in that any move that might lead to the relaxation of the prohibition on the ivory trade would increase poaching.