Botswana Lifts Ban on Hunting Elephants

May 23, 2019 Updated: May 23, 2019

Botswana’s government has lifted a ban on elephant hunting.

The Environment Ministry issued a statement on the decision, citing a range of reasons for revoking the prohibition, including high levels of conflict between elephants and humans.

The move is apt to anger conservationists, who have in the past reacted with outrage at any move that weakened the protection of elephants in Botswana, which has the world’s largest population of the animals, estimated at some 130,000.

Conservation groups last September denounced moves by Botswana’s government to strip the wildlife department of weapons used for the sometimes dangerous work of thwarting armed poachers.

At the time, President Mokgweetsi Masisi called the reactions “nothing but hysteria.”

But compared to disarming staff, overturning the hunting ban—in place since 2014—is a sea change.

Justifying the decision, the country’s Environment Ministry linked the ban to a negative impact on people’s livelihoods. It noted that some communities that in the past relied on “consumptive utilization” of elephants have suffered.

The ministry also pointed to an alleged link between Botswana’s elephants and a rise in the number of predators.

“Predators appear to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers,” the ministry said in the statement, which lists five findings of the Cabinet Sub Committee on Hunting Ban and Social Dialogue.

Masisi set up the committee last June to review the ban. In February, the committee recommended allowing hunting again.

“On the basis of these issues, the Government has reflected and assessed the recommendations, and lifted the suspension,” the ministry said in its statement, adding that it would ensure the “re-instatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner.”

Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of Wildlife Direct, a conservancy, called the government’s move “shortsighted and regrettable.”

Dr. Kahumbu said in a tweet: “There’s no question that we need to address the challenge of living with mega fauna like elephants, but hunting our majestic animals? It’s archaeic and unimaginative. Africa, we are better than this. We need to work together to find solutions.”

In an earlier message she said after the ban is lifted we can “expect mass culling next & aggressive efforts 2 reopen ivory trade,” adding that the impact of the move would likely be felt across Africa.

The Scientific American notes that in 1930, there were between 5 and 10 million wild African elephants.

Now there are estimated to be some 415,000 elephants in Africa, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Poaching for ivory has reduced herd numbers, as has the loss of habitat.

Campaigns to ban all ivory sales as a way to prevent illegal poaching have gained momentum, although government officials in some African countries—Botswana among them—have argued that trade in ivory should be regulated, not completely banned.

Proponents of a regulated ivory trade argue countries that manage their elephant populations well should be allowed to sell ivory to pay for conservation measures.

There is also no consensus on how to manage large, destructive elephant populations encroaching on human settlements.

Ron Thomson, who worked in Africa’s national parks for six decades, says that despite declining elephant numbers as a whole, managing populations within the limited space of parks is sometimes necessary.

Thomson was named in a report by the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, which notes that the elephant population has declined from 1.3 million to around 400,000 in the last four decades.

Thomson, who says on his website that he has shot 800 buffaloes, 60 lions, and about 50 hippos, told the Independent that he no longer hunts.

“I’ve done enough in my lifetime to satisfy any ‘bloodlust’ people may think I have. It wasn’t bloodlust—it was my job,” he said.

“I’m totally unrepentant, a hundred—ten thousand—times over for any of the hunting I’ve done because that’s not the problem. The problem is we’ve got a bunch of so-called experts from the West telling us what to do. I’m a trained university ecologist—I must surely know something about this.”

Thomson set up a conservation group in 2016, The Green Alliance, that “rejects the animal rights doctrine.”

He says the doctrine runs counter to any sustainable wildlife management and conservation approach, and should instead integrate the needs of the people and the wildlife.

Thomson says that debates over management of animal populations are muddied by emotion, lack of expertise, and large amounts of money from the lobbying groups.

According to Thomson, the elephant population in Botswana has been destroying its own environment and that of other animals.

“In 2013, the Botswana government admitted that all other game species that shared the demolished habitats with the elephants were in free-fall decline by, on average, 60 percent,” Thomson wrote in a blog.

Botswana, a mostly arid country the size of France, has a population of around 2.3 million people, and its vast tracts of remote wilderness make it a magnet for foreign tourists who want to view wildlife.

The Associated Press and Epoch Times staff writer Simon Veazey contributed to this report.

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