On Wednesday 22 May 2019 the government of Botswana announced an end to a five-year suspension of hunting on government land. The lifting of the suspension followed nationwide consultation, with emphasis on communities affected by human-wildlife conflict. The results from that nationwide survey were clear: the people of Botswana were overwhelmingly in favour of reinstating hunting. Widespread dissatisfaction with the suspension of hunting arose from intolerable levels of property and crop damage and attacks on people (sometimes fatal) by elephants, livestock losses to predators, and the loss of the material benefits that hunting provided in the past.
Botswana has a long history of incorporating hunting in its wildlife management and conservation. In fact, while regulated trophy hunting was generating income and employment for some remote rural communities prior to 2014, Botswana became home to the largest elephant population in Africa. There is no evidence that the suspension of hunting in 2014 led to increased numbers of elephants, or any other wildlife species.However, according to recent surveys, elephant poaching increased. Meanwhile,the hunting ban deprived rural people of jobs and the tons of meat derived from wildlife hunting while the killing of wildlife continued antagonized by human-wildlife conflict with elephants and predators. Legal bushmeat harvest under citizen licenses was replaced by large-scale bushmeat poaching. At the same time, commercial hunting on privately managed leasehold and freehold land, did not fall under the hunting suspension and continued to produce tangible benefits for the owners of those private non-government managed lands. Consumptive use of wildlife delivers tangible direct benefits from wildlife resources; benefits that aim to reduce lethal retaliation toward problem animals, and wildlife crimes through incentivized community stewardship. We would also emphasize the importance of ensuring the financial and material benefits of hunting are retained locally so that those currently bearing the costs of coexisting with wildlife also derive benefits from doing so. Restoring regulated hunting on government land will return to the majority of the population who do not own land, but who live with wildlife, the option to benefit from consumptive utilization across a much broader landscape than is currently covered by photographic tourism.
3. Botswana’s conservation policies, practices and protected areas have ensured the survival of wildlife populations in their core strongholds, where photographic tourism takes advantage of high wildlife densities and diversity. But outside those protected areas there are important conservation issues that challenge the sustainability of the core areas and the health and biodiversity of the entire ecosystem. It isin the ‘marginal areas’ of the broader intact ecosystem where hunting, and other consumptive uses such as legal bushmeat production can be valuable to ensure that wildlife habitats are not entirely lost to land uses favouring commercial enterprises, as has occurred elsewhere in world. A typical alternative use of such landscapes throughout southern Africa is fenced commercial livestock farming that is generally incompatible with ecosystem health, due in part of elimination of apex predators and disruption of historical connectivity. Outside the designated wildlife protected areas, Botswana’s rural communities share land and resources with wildlife in communal lands and resulting conflict must be managed.
No doubt, Botswana’s decision to lift the suspension on hunting will be under intense scrutiny both from local stakeholders and the international conservation community. This scrutiny is welcome and important because it provides both incentive and opportunity for allof us working in conservation in Botswana to develop best practices in ensuring the sustainability of its spectacular wildlife populations, and the growth ofits highly successful wildlife tourism industry.
For our part, BPCT will continue to support Botswana’s government with rigorous scientific data to help guide its wildlife management decisions, and we remain committed to developing non-lethal wildlife management tools that mitigate the costs of conflict for subsistence farmers, enhance co-existence with wildlife, and allow the people of Botswana to benefit from the resources under their protection.
The Research and Conservation Team at BPCT