Conservationists around the world are applauding the Government of Botswana’s decision to end that nation’s ban on elephant hunting. Botswana also plans to start a culling programme in the near future to manage its extremely large elephant population. If nothing is done to control the size of these herds, there is a fear of massive elephant deaths and the loss of other wildlife as the entire ecosystem collapses.
“I welcome Botswana’s move,” said one of Africa’s top ecologists and the former CEO of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe share the same border. “The lifting of the ban on hunting will help local rural communities benefit from hunting just as neighbouring communities in Namibia have enjoyed the benefits of hunting.”
The hunting ban was opposed by local communities that have long paid and still continue to pay for the cost of living side by side with wildlife without any of the benefits. Human-wildlife conflict has resulted in death, crop loss and homestead destruction. Without benefits, the rural communities find no need to save elephants and would rather help in poaching them.
Ian Khama’s successor as Botswana’s President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, heard the plea and asked his ministers to urgently review the hunting ban. He also saw it as a major threat to wildlife conservation in the country. The ministers then recommended not only lifting the ban on hunting but also to begin a culling programme.
Clearly, the current Botswana administration has decided to tell the animal rights groups that it is a sovereign state that does what works for wildlife conservation in its country and takes care of the wellbeing of its rural communities. The Managing Director of the Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute, Mr Godfrey Harris, welcomed this exercise of Botswana’s sovereign right to promote sustainable management of its wildlife.
According to Harris, Botswana is doing what we have been urging all African wildlife range states to do – re-establish their sovereign right to manage their wildlife by rejecting efforts by animal rights groups to impose a Western conservation agenda on them. Mr Ron Thomson, a renowned ecologist and commentator on environmental issues who is also CEO of the South Africa-based environmental organisation, the True Green Alliance, applauded the Botswana Government’s decision. According to Thomson, it was both practical and responsive to its wildlife needs and works for the benefit of both conservation and the socio-economic wellbeing of rural people. He also welcomed and praised Botswana for its plans to resume elephant culling in order to control the size of its elephant herds that are currently about 20 times above the carrying capacity of the country’s ecosystem.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi has a progressive wildlife management plan to solve the problems created by his animal rightist predecessor. He is someone who could lead the rest of southern Africa in this new direction. President Masisi needs everybody’s support in this challenging task. In what appears to be one of a number of moves to rid Botswana of animal rights influence, President Masisi recently removed Tshekedi Khama (former President Khama’s brother) as Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. He moved him to the Ministry of Youth, Empowerment, Sports and Culture. The demotion of Minister Khama followed his open support for an animal rights group, Elephants Without Borders (EWB) and their controversial survey indicating massive elephant poaching in Botswana. The Government said EWB’s report was false and misleading.
Botswana is not the only southern African country that has been targeted by animal rights groups to allow them to continue promoting their self-serving anti-use wildlife agenda. In 1996, the International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) opposed elephant culling in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. IFAW suggested elephant contraception as an option to culling amid fierce opposition from African conservationists. IFAW later gave the South African National Parks US$5 million to introduce elephant contraception to its herds. The programme failed spectacularly; elephant populations grew to new heights. Undaunted by the failure, animal rights groups have taken advantage of their contacts to establish offices in South Africa to continue to influence wildlife matters. Today, South Africa has a major elephant overpopulation problem in Kruger National Park with the animal rights groups still opposing culling operations.
Other SADC countries should support President Masisi’s assertion of independence and pro-sustainable use policies. While they are at it, they might look at the current bans on trade in ivory and rhino horn, so enthusiastically backed by the animal rights groups as a way to end poaching. That too has failed dismally.
Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who has written extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.