Give Botswana a chance

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Caroline Hurry
Caroline Hurry 

Kevin Leo Smith, a director of the Safari Investment Advisory, says the situation regarding hunting in Botswana is both complicated and opaque

Tourism to Botswana is under threat, according to Janine Avery of the Conservation African Trust who says  ‘consumers and sections of the media’ are calling for a travel boycott to that country, following proposals to lift the hunting ban.

Kevin Leo-Smith
Kevin Leo-Smith

However, Kevin Leo Smith, a director of the Safari Investment advisory, says: “Everyone needs to celebrate the success of conservation in Botswana and slow down on the kneejerk responses while they do their consulting. Make sure, if you feel strong enough, that you take your place at the consultation tables (this is not in the media).

“The world needs to copy successful countries and not listen to the countries that consistently fail to manage their conservation resources effectively or we will force all countries into a race to the bottom and lose that which is currently protected effectively.”

Those who make big money from photo tourism seem to be remaining calm.

Avery quotes Ian Michler, Director of Invent Africa Safaris, as saying: ‘Well-managed photo-tourism is the best land-use option to manage the protected areas of Botswana’ and Valeri Mouton of &Beyond as ”confident that Botswana remains a safe haven for wildlife”.

It’s a view echoed by Colin Bell, a co-founder of photo tourism safari company, Natural Selection: “My view is that there is no need to reach for the blood pressure pills at this early stage in the consultation process – and that ultimately good sense will prevail.”

Wilderness Safaris, Botswana’s leading ecotourism operator, stated they would ‘engage with the Minister’ in a bid to increase citizen participation in the tourism industry and further increase its contribution to the national economy.

Beks Ndlovu of African Bush Camps said: “The tourism industry is next in line for consultation and no doubt our views will be fully heard.”

Dereck Joubert, CEO of the Great Plains Conservation is less confident. Calling the proposal, ‘Botswana’s Blood Law’, Joubert has started a petition to oppose these recommendations. “I have seen enough dead elephants from the bad guys. I don’t need to see a thousand more piles from our own government,” he says.

While some have applauded the government for embracing a consultative process, others say the proposal goes against everything the country stands for. Known as a safe-haven for elephants, and home to almost a third of Africa’s elephants, they feel that the country has a responsibility to protect these creatures.

According to an Environmental Investigation Agency spokesperson “Bringing back trophy hunting will not stop poaching, nor will it introduce a legal trade of ivory and other elephant products. This flies in the face of Botswana’s commitments as a founding member of the Elephant Protection Initiative,”

Howard Jones, CEO of Born Free, agrees, saying “the government of Botswana has decided that the vice of personal profit can outweigh common sense.”

It’s a statement techoed in Joubert’s petition: “The hunts, and proposed culls, would not be for any conservation reason at all, but only to satisfy greed.”

Adds Michler:  “The government is correct in wanting to improve on community, human-animal conflict and communication challenges, but to take regressive steps rather than building on a sound ecotourism record is not smart.”

However, Leo Smith states: “The President is primarily elected to do the best for the country’s citizens and consider the bigger picture. Botswana needs the space to work through this issue following their systems. He points out the following:

  • The original hunting ban was implemented without the required Botswana level of consultation by the former President
  • Elephant numbers in Botswana are hovering around 125,000 to 130,000 based on latest and previous surveys, so may have stopped growing at around 5% per annum, which  means a doubling of numbers every 14 years; making it a significant growth rate and close to the measured maximum potential growth rate of 5.5%.
  • Elephants in rural Botswana have cost 17 human lives over the past few years.
  • Elephants cause significant damage to crops and fields of the most poor rural area dwellers in the elephant range – this forces people into even more desperate situations
  • Elephants used to provide at least R7 million per annum of net income to the communities within the elephant range – after the ban this income stopped and was never replaced.
  • There is a public spat between the current and the former Presidents and the hunting ban and elephant poaching issues have been used in this spat.
  • Poaching of elephants has increased in the recent past as measured by the latest elephant survey
  • The rise in elephant poaching has been happening since 2014 and the hunting ban.
  • It is not clear if the rise in poaching and the ban are related.
  • The removal of automatic weapons from the DWNP and the re-issue of the same kinds of weapons with the military grade adaptions disabled has nothing to do with the rise in poaching.
  • This whole issue has only risen to prominence due to the outrageous success of Botswana’s elephant management in past decades. This is not a failure but a problem resulting from success.
  • The current President is facing an election that pundits predict could lead to lower support for the BDP that has ruled Botswana since independence.
  • While Botswana is urbanising quickly (along with most global countries) the rural vote is still important especially for the BDP
  • The President is following the Botswana “way” of extensive national consultation on the issue of elephant management
  • Botswana is famous for finding compromises
  • Everyone including the photo tourism industry will be given a chance to comment as will the conservation NGOs.
  • Sharon Gilbert-Rivett on sustainable tourism in Botswana