FILE PHOTO: A herd of elephants leaves a drinking spot in the Mababe area, Botswana, September 19, 2018. Picture: REUTERS / SIPHIWE SIBEKO
FILE PHOTO: A herd of elephants leaves a drinking spot in the Mababe area, Botswana, September 19, 2018. Picture: REUTERS / SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Gaborone — Many conservationists on Thursday reacted with anger over Botswana’s decision to lift its blanket ban on hunting, describing it as a “horrifying” move, though others backed the idea.

Botswana announced on Wednesday it would overturn the hunting ban introduced in 2014 to reverse a decline in the population of elephants and other wildlife.

 Then president Ian Khama, a keen environmentalist who stood down in 2018 , introduced a prohibition on hunting in 2014.

MPs from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) have been lobbying to overturn the ban, saying wild animal numbers have become unmanageable in some areas.

Much of the controversy has focused on elephant hunting, as landlocked Botswana has the largest elephant population in Africa, with more than 135,000 roaming freely in its unfenced parks and wide open spaces.

The London-based Humane Society International said “the horrifying decision ... will send shock waves throughout the conservation world”.

“Resuming ... hunting is not only morally questionable and flies in the face of all international efforts to protect these giants, but it will also likely damage Botswana’s hugely valuable tourism industry,” the body said.

“We implore Botswana’s government to think again.”

An official at the Botswana environment ministry confirmed on Thursday that the blanket ban was being lifted — not just on elephant hunting.

“It is all other animals, but we will specify in a press conference today which exact animals will be listed for hunting. Some animals are endangered so we can’t hunt them,” she said.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi took over from Khama in 2018 and a public review began five months later, with reports suggesting growing political friction between Masisi and his predecessor.

“This is a political move and not in the best interests of conservation in Botswana,” Jason Bell of the US-based International Fund for Animal Welfare said.

“Elephants are being used as political scapegoats, but at a huge cost,” said Bell. “Hunting will do nothing to alleviate human-elephant conflict. One has to question what the real reasons are.”

But Botswana groups welcomed the move, saying it would help local communities as trophy hunters pay large sums to shoot an animal. “We are very happy that hunting will be back,” Amos Mabuku, chair of the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust, said.

“The people were the ones who had been bearing the brunt of co-existing with these animals — we have lost brothers, we have lost our crops, we have lost our cattle due to this.

“Livelihoods are dependent on the revenue from trophy hunting … controllable hunting, not poaching.”

The World Wide Fund for Nature said that its policy was that “in certain limited and rigorously controlled cases ... scientific evidence has shown that trophy hunting can be an effective conservation tool as part of a broad mix of strategies”.

Some experts say the number of elephants in Botswana, renowned as a luxury safari destination, has almost tripled over the last 30 years, and that the population could now be more than  160,000.

The environment ministry said on Wednesday that a cabinet committee review found that “high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing”.

“Predators appear to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they killed livestock in large number,” it added.

“The general consensus from those consulted was that the hunting ban should be lifted,” it said, vowing that hunting would be re-started ”in an orderly and ethical manner”.

Lifting the hunting ban could be a popular move with rural voters ahead of an election due in October.

Many of Botswana’s elephants roam across borders into Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

All four countries have called for a global ban on elephant ivory trade to be relaxed due to the growing number of the animals in some regions.

AFP