Botswana Reviews Its Hunting Ban
In early September, Botswana began legislative hearings to reconsider its ban on hunting public and government areas, particularly the ban on elephant hunting. The Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism (MEWT) did not respond to repeated requests for comment, and the matter seems to be in the hands of politicians for the moment.
We spoke with Jeff Rann of 777 Ranch/Rann Safaris, who held the CT1 and CT7 concessions before the hunting. At press time, Rann said that he was attending the US Department of the Interior’s International Wildlife Conservation Council in Washington D.C., and had spoken with Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the University of Botswana, who has written extensively on tourism and the effect of the hunting ban. He is an adviser to the president Mokgweetsi Masisi and the Botswana cabinet. Rann tells us that Mbaiwa is of the opinion that hunting will resume in some form.
In a brief email, Mbaiwa told us, “A motion has been passed in parliament to re-introduce hunting in Botswana. The motion was accepted. They are consulting now with the hope to re-introduce hunting in the country.” It is unclear if this is a separate motion from that made by the parliament in June to review the ban.
President Masisi’s predecessor, Ian Khama, introduced the hunting ban in 2012, but it did not go into full effect until 2014. Although hunting continued on private reserves, only plains game species could be taken. Khama and his brother, who was the Minister of the Environment, ostensibly instituted the ban in response to a survey on game in northern Botswana that found steep declines in game animals including kudu, giraffe, and wildebeest since 1966. This they blamed on trophy hunting. Scientists believe that the true culprit, however, is elephant overpopulation and the pressure exerted by the huge herds on the habitat. Elephant numbers have ballooned from 10,000 in the 1960s to what is speculated to be over 130,000 today.
The ban forced all gazetted areas which were part of the Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) program to turn to phototourism, and this has not proved viable in many areas. Much income and antipoaching protections have been lost, as well as the much-needed protein source that hunting provides in rural areas.
International media has reported that the reversal of the ban is being considered in response to elephant overpopulation. It should be noted, however, that sport hunting has never been an effective population control strategy for elephants. Hunting could be used to address specific animal conflicts, however. Human deaths and conflicts with farmers have risen along with the elephant population. Botswana would likely have to look to culling or waterpoint management to reduce elephant numbers. Any move in that direction would undoubtedly face major international backlash, and that’s the quandary faced by Southern African nations with high elephant numbers.
Obviously, The Hunting Report enthusiastically supports resumed hunting in Botswana. The ban was made without any scientific support and without regard for the communities where hunting has produced tangible economic and conservation benefits in the past. Let’s hope that the parliament and President Masisi make the right decision.