In Depth

Why Botswana has lifted its ban on elephant hunting

Government acts to reduce elephant numbers but former president criticises move

Botswana, home to the world’s largest elephant population, is to lift a 2014 ban on the hunting of the animal.

This week, the southern African country’s  Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said that “predators appear to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers”. The country would ensure that the “reinstatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner”, according to Bloomberg News.

Botswana is home to around 160,000 elephants - more than any other country in the world and three times as many as in 1991, according to Bloomberg.

As its natural habitat shrinks as a result of human activity, the African elephant - which is classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List - is “increasingly coming into contact with humans”, says CNN.

That has led to elephants raiding crops, killing livestock, destroying water supplies - and sometimes even injuring and killing people, according to the IUCN.

Botswana’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, set up a committee in June last year to consider repealing the hunting ban, Reuters reports. At the time, the committee chair said it recommended “a legal framework that will enable the growth of a safari hunting industry and manage the country’s elephant population within the historic range”. The committee also called for “regular but limited” elephant culling.

Former president Ian Khama, who brought in the ban in 2014, is among those who have criticised the repeal efforts. He says the move is designed to earn votes from the country’s rural regions and could have an adverse affect on tourism, which accounts for a fifth of the economy, second only to diamond mining.

But the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association voiced support for the move. “Conservation of our species is paramount, but communities’ rights and livelihoods are as important as the species itself,” spokeswoman Debbie Peak said in a text message to Bloomberg News.

Dani Rabaiotti, an environmental scientist based at the Zoological Society of London, agreed, saying: “Who are we to tell the people who live alongside these animals that eat people’s crops, injure and even kill people, how to manage their elephants?”

The majority of Botswana’s elephants live in the northeast of the country. Despite the ban on hunting, “one of the worst elephant slaughters in recent years” took place here, says US news site The Hill.

The tusks of 87 elephants were found during a period in 2018 while a charity, Elephants Without Borders, conducted aerial surveys of the region. The Botswanan government called the findings “false and misleading”.

While elephant numbers have increased in some areas, the population of elephants across Africa has fallen over the past decade by about 111,000 to 415,000. This is due largely to poaching for ivory, according to the IUCN.

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