Botswana lifts ban on hunting elephants

Wildlife protection groups condemn move, as government recommends elephant culling

A group of elephants in  the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The country is home to around 130,000 elephants. Photograph: Gernot Hensel/EPA

A group of elephants in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The country is home to around 130,000 elephants. Photograph: Gernot Hensel/EPA

 

Botswana, which has the world’s highest number of elephants, has lifted its ban on big game hunting in a decision that has brought anger from wildlife protection groups.

The southern African nation is home to an estimated 130,000 elephants. The lifting of the ban raised concerns about a possible increase in illegal poaching of elephants for their tusks to supply the ivory trade.

“Expect mass culling next,” the chief executive of WildlifeDirect, Paula Kahumbu, said in a post on Twitter, adding that the impact of Botswana’s decision will be felt across Africa.

Botswana has long been a refuge for elephants on a continent where tens of thousands have been killed over the years for their ivory.

The decision to lift the hunting ban comes amid growing conflicts between humans, particularly farmers, and elephants, the Botswana government’s statement said.

It said hunting will resume “in an orderly and ethical manner” but does not say how it will be regulated.

The country, with a population of just over two million people, suffers some human-wildlife conflict but has more space than many other countries for animals to roam.

The hunting ban was put in place under previous president Ian Khama but current president Mokgweeti Masisi began to look into it not long after taking office last year.

A committee set up in June last year by Mr Masisi to review the ban recommended in February that Botswana consider allowing big game hunting again.

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.

The decision to lift the ban comes months ahead of general elections in October.

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

Botswana is among several African countries with some of the world’s largest elephant populations that have pushed for looser controls on legal ivory trade.

They assert that commerce will help them pay to conserve elephants, while critics assert that even limited trade fuels demand and drives up illegal killing.

Botswana and neighbouring Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are estimated to have about 256,000 elephants, or more than half of the total estimate for Africa. – Associated Press, Reuters