Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. — Stephen Hawking
Botswana is the most peaceful country in mainland Africa.
This fact has become a little ironic over the last couple of weeks as the international community prepares to go to war over Botswana’s right to hunt their own elephants.
As we write, the Government of Botswana has started the process of deciding whether to repeal the ban on hunting they applied in 2014.
It is a complicated and emotive matter.
Here is what you need to know.
A Brief History of Hunting in Botswana
As with the rest of Southern Africa, wildlife-based tourism in Botswana is largely nature-based and it relies heavily on the wildlife resources in Northern Botswana.
Hunting also predated photographic safaris here. It was practiced from the late 1850s and was made an official tourism activity in 1990. The safari hunting operators mainly did their marketing and selling to clients in the developed countries of North America and Europe. Most African hunts were booked through United States hunting conventions and the bulk of hunters visiting Southern and East Africa are from the United States.
Then the idea of Sustainable Development originated in 1987. And the thoughts surrounding this idea have always included a very polarized debate about hunting.
The Animal Rights and Protectionist Argument
Killing animals for sport is immoral and abhorrent and may result in the extinction of animal species.
The Hunters and Pragmatic Conservationist Argument
Safari hunting is a tool for wildlife conservation and imperative to biodiversity and population control.
Kenya banned Safari hunting in 1977 due to poor hunting controls and ethics on the part of the hunting industry leading to wildlife decline. From overhunting to corruption, the hunting industry lost the trust of the government.
Botswana, initially focused on Safari hunting as its main tourism activity, only banned Safari hunting in 2014, citing wildlife decline in the community-based tourism initiatives in Northern Botswana.
In 2011 Elephants Without Borders delivered the conclusion of a wildlife statistics aerial survey. They argued that wildlife populations in Botswana have been decimated by hunting, poaching, human encroachment, habitat fragmentation, drought, and veldt fires. The survey found that 11 species have declined by an average of 61% since a 1996 survey.
The Botswana Way
Before the hunting ban, the Government consulted with stakeholders such as local communities in wildlife areas, tourism operators and researchers. Specifically, the President of Botswana, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism and government officials from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks conducted workshops and public meetings in wildlife areas and centers such as Maun, Kasane, Gumare and Shakawe and in affected CBNRM small villages.
Following all this consultation the President of Botswana announced in 2013 that there would be no hunting licenses issued after 2013, and all hunting in Botswana would be ended by 2014. This ban extended to citizen hunting and covered all species.
Of course, everyone did not agree. Academics criticized the Elephants without Borders findings and argued that a snapshot should not be relied on to inform important decisions. The loss of income from Safari hunting and jobs was feared to affect rural livelihoods.
Rothschild Safaris’ stance on Hunting
- Safari Hunting is an outdated form of conservation and is clearly shown to increase demand (both legally and illegally) for animal trophies and products. New solutions must be found and it is not simply good enough to stand against hunting as Fabia Bausch recently stated so clearly in our Rothschild Safaricast. As a company, Rothschild Safaris is actively engaged in finding solutions and promoting and supporting the companies that work to ** solutions.
- The numbers initially sound impressive when you compare the spend of a hunter against the financial reward a country can claim from a photographic Safari client. It is, however clear when you look at the way a photographic Safari camp is set up and run that it employs many more people and services than a Safari hunting operation. There are also more skilled employees and a need for training and education in photographic Safari camps. Finally, the distribution of the Safari hunting income is much more prone to corruption and tends to be very lopsided with a few entities (usually the hunting company, the professional hunter and the Government) receiving most of the financial gains.
- We believe that the act of taking the life of an animal for pleasure is very different from subsistence hunting or buying meat from a supermarket (where the pleasure is obtained from eating but not from killing) and as such is harmful to human nature.
In closing please find the following three press releases on the matter.
The Botswana White Paper: Statement from African Bush Camps
Botswana has created an enviable reputation consistently over the decades as a leading tourism destination that transcends the safari industry. The country has lead the way in banning hunting, a high profile decision that resonated with nature lovers across the world and that has differentiated Botswana from competing safari destinations. Less high-profile has been its sustained and sensitive environmental management over many years which has successfully controlled Botswana’s fragile resources. An important part of this has been accommodating ‘trans-frontier’ migrations – one of nature’s best secrets of maintaining gene pool diversity and auto-correction including survival of the fragile ecosystems whose survival is dependent on migrating wildlife. These policies have created an iconic safari destination and an industry that is the second largest in Botswana, bringing jobs and prosperity to many of Botswana’s citizens.
These hugely successful policies have not been without cost in terms of increased human-wildlife conflicts and pressure from elephant populations which we recognize need to be addressed.
Like the majority of our industry colleagues, African Bush Camps cares deeply about the communities in wildlife areas: I grew up in such a community, as did most of my colleagues at African Bush Camps and our love and respect for the environment stems from those early interactions. We, therefore, recognize that communities need to be fully engaged to find solutions that allow them to live harmoniously with wildlife and to benefit from their heritage. We stand ready with our industry colleagues to continue to help with initiatives in this area.
Consultations at all levels of society from grassroots to the top have begun between the new government of President Masisi and stakeholders, reverting to the tried and tested consultation customs & traditions of the Botswana of old.
The current recommendations to the President are the views of some rural community members. The tourism industry is next in line for consultation and no doubt our views will be fully heard. They will include the contrasting views of the community members who are gainfully employed; those who are benefiting from the extraordinary boom brought about through the cessation of hunting.
We pledge our support to the Government of Botswana as it undertakes this important debate that will define the future of Botswana.
All the best,
From the Botswana Government
Where do you stand on the matter?
Images via Harshil Gudka, Richard Jacobs, Isabella Jusková, ray rui, AJ Robbie