Botswana Lifts 5-Year Ban on Hunting Elephants
"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.
President Masisi, for every person who wants to kill elephants, there are millions who want them protected. We’re w… https://t.co/gDTRsT2Ip6— Ellen DeGeneres (@Ellen DeGeneres)1558560642.0
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:
- There had been an increase in conflicts between humans and elephants.
- There had been an increase in the number of predators, who then killed livestock.
- The ban had harmed those who made a living from hunting before the ban was put in place.
- 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.
Hunting elephants in Botswana will not reduce human elephant conflict. First, no hunter wants to go after elephants… https://t.co/mdZnpbxso4— Dr. Paula Kahumbu (@Dr. Paula Kahumbu)1558626705.0
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.
There’s no such thing as “Ethical hunting”. It’s an oxymoron #Botswana— Dr. Paula Kahumbu (@Dr. Paula Kahumbu)1558626722.0
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.
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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