GP Insights # 77, 17 June 2019
Recently, Botswana's Government lifted a five-year ban on the poaching of elephants in what was the haven of around 130,000 African elephants in the continent. The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation, and Tourism made the statement which has caused an international outcry from conservationists and tourists. Botswana is a country whose second largest income is from tourism.
What is the background?
The former President of Botswana Ian Khama had imposed a ban on trophy hunting and ordered that all the hunting tourism be changed into photography tourism. He constituted an anti-poaching unit, armed them with weapons and a shoot-to-kill policy was adopted to curb poaching. While this boosted the image of Botswana in the international stage as a conservationist state, it brought on some issues in the country.
The Government cites increased animal-human conflict and the casualty and destruction the wild herds caused as a reason to lift the ban. They also mention hunting as a necessary tool for conservation of the species. While it sounds paradoxical, the supporters give a strange justification. Hunting brings in more revenue. This revenue is in turn, invested in the conservation programs and parks.
Photography tourism does not have as high returns as hunting trophies do. When the ban was implemented, the Government failed to cover the difference in revenue for the communities. Many turned to agriculture, but elephants caused destruction.
Around 216,000 African elephants migrate freely between Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, unrestricted. When the other countries proved unsafe for the elephants, the elephants lost their habitat and migrated, increasing the population in Botswana. The frustrated locals also stopped maintaining artificial waterholes, leading to a higher frequency of human-animal conflicts.
What does it mean?
The current President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi saw the problem, lifted the ban, took away the arms from the Anti-Poaching Unit, and revoked the shoot-to-kill policy. While the ideal cycle of hunting, providing revenue for conservation is justifiable for poorer African countries, Botswana's economic status is not very dire. Botswana is the second largest producer of diamonds - their leading income source, in the world. In many countries where a similar policy was adopted, the revenue never reached the ground level. Botswana could be another same case.
The move could be a ploy by the President to appease the voters with the upcoming elections in October. The people of Botswana worry not about the sustainability of an animal in the wild, but their survival. They need safety and employment. Locals are hired as trackers for hunting safaris and offers them better pay.
The population of elephants across Africa declined by 30 per cent from 2007 to 2014. Today, they are under a larger threat with Botswana no longer being their protected space. Recent studies show that every 15 minutes, an elephant is killed in Africa. While the effectivity of China's ban on ivory trade is unclear, there is still a huge demand for ivory from Asia. The animals and the ecosystem are unwittingly at a higher risk. The single legislation has far-reaching consequence for the fate of the wildlife, the people and Government's performance in the upcoming elections. The country needs to follow up on the legislation with care and ensure the haven of elephants don't become their graveyard.