When Botswana, home to about one-third of the world’s African elephants, lifted its hunting ban in May, leaders knew they were courting controversy. The government even hired a public relations firm specialising in Hollywood celebrities to spin public opinion to its side.

For President Mokgweetsi Masisi, the need to end the ban was obvious. Rural farmers have borne the brunt of the near-tripling of the elephant population since 1991, to 130,000. As many as 50 Botswanans have been killed by elephants since the ban was implemented in 2014 and hundreds of reports of property damage have been filed. Botswana is also facing in October its most competitive election since independence in 1966 and Masisi needs rural support.

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