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Botswana Lifts 5-Year Ban on Hunting Elephants

Animals
Edwin Remsburg / VW Pics / Getty Images

Botswana, home to one third of Africa's elephants, announced Wednesday that it was lifting its ban on the hunting of the large mammals.

"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.


Botswana had banned elephant hunting in 2014 under the leadership of conservation-minded President Ian Khama, who opposed trophy hunting and also introduced a shoot-to-kill policy against poachers, The New York Times reported. But his successor, President Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, convened a committee to reassess the ban after winning election in 2018.

The announcement prompted an outcry from conservationists and wildlife lovers around the world.

"The whole world is turning away from hunting. It is increasingly seen as an archaic practice. This is very, very damaging to the image of Botswana as a global leader in elephant conservation," Kenyan-based expert and activist Dr. Paula Kahumbu said, as The Guardian reported.

Celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres and Kristin Davis also spoke out against lifting the ban, according to The New York Times.

The government said the decision was based on a series of consultations with stakeholders including conservationists, impacted communities, tourism businesses, non-governmental organizations and researchers. The process had revealed the following arguments in favor of lifting the ban, the government said:

  1. There had been an increase in conflicts between humans and elephants.
  2. There had been an increase in the number of predators, who then killed livestock.
  3. The ban had harmed those who made a living from hunting before the ban was put in place.
  4. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks lacked the capacity to respond in a timely manner when animals did become dangerous.

Some have argued that hunting could also help conservation, the government said, because it would allow communities to benefit financially from the tourism it would attract.

Botswana-based wildlife veterinarian Erik Verreynne agreed with this assessment.

"Rural communities endure the cost of human-wildlife conflict yet are largely excluded from the income generated by tourist industries," he said. Reinstating hunting would help these communities to see value from protecting the elephants.

But Kahumbu disagreed that allowing hunting would help with the problems faced by rural Botswanans. She said that trophy hunters were unlikely to travel to smaller villages, and that the threat of being hunted would actually make elephants more dangerous.

Others saw the ban in more cynical terms, arguing it was an attempt by Masisi to appeal to voters ahead of an election later in the year.

"The party is losing votes rapidly and wants to increase its votes in the rural areas by allowing the hunting of elephants," Last Elephant author Don Pinnock told The New York Times. He said the elephants were "collateral damage."

The government did not release details of its plan but said that hunting would be introduced in an "orderly and ethical manner."

But Kahumbu found fault with the premise.

"There's no such thing as 'Ethical hunting'. It's an oxymoron," she tweeted.

African elephants are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. There were once as many as 20 million elephants in Africa before European colonization, scientists estimate. But their numbers had fallen to 1.3 million by 1979, CNN reported. There are now about 415,000 on the continent, and more than 135,000 of them live in Botswana, The Guardian reported. In the past decade, their numbers in Africa have fallen by around 111,000 due to poaching for ivory.

Correction: This post has been revised to clarify that celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres and Kristin Davis spoke out against lifting the ban.

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