After COVID-19 misfire, hunting season beckons again

In sight: Impala are amongst species available to hunters in the upcoming season PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES
In sight: Impala are amongst species available to hunters in the upcoming season PIC: THALEFANG CHARLES

Steeped in culture, hunting activities in the country are set for a reset soon, with the Wildlife Department due to declare open season. Last year, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic disturbed the first season after the lifting of the hunting suspension, but from April 6, hunters around the country will be good to go. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports

In times past, groups of men would depart before dawn from the cattle posts on hunting excursions, indulging in a practice as old as humankind. Using skills inherited from their forebears and polished by cattle herders, the teams would diligently track their targets, often spending days if the species were particularly adept at avoiding humans.

“If the purpose of the trip was for seshabo (relish), the trip would be short, probably a day,” reminisces Thabo ‘Base’ Mokobi.

“If you were looking for a particular species, it could take several days in the bush.

“We strictly used rifles, with absolutely no trapping allowed.”

Mokobi, an avid hunter, says the culture is slowly being lost.

“Way back, we spent days at the cattle post learning how to track animals, how to hunt.

“Today’s children who want Wifi and other comforts would kill you if you told them to spend those days in the bush.

“They can’t tell the difference between donkey tracks and tholo (kudu) tracks.

“We learnt from our uncles and the cattle herders who would tell you that this one is a dog print and this one is a hyena. “The culture is dying. Things have become expensive and there are many regulations.”

The hunting ban imposed by the government in 2014 as well as the costs and regulations associated with the return of the hunting season in 2020 are the main reasons why what was once a time-honoured activity is losing its shine.

Since the lifting of the hunting ban in 2019, the government has sought to reignite the tradition amongst Batswana, with some success.  The effort is not simply for nostalgic reasons, but for the real value available to communities from hunting activities, including the camps set up, trackers and spotters employed and associated procurement. In the first season following the lifting of the ban, hundreds of licences were made available to citizen hunters across species such as elephant, leopard, warthog, zebra, members of the antelope family and others. The season stretched from September 2019 to January, with hundreds of Batswana securing licences for various species. The citizen hunting quota for 86 elephant licences, saw overwhelming interest with the raffles conducted at dikgotla in Ngamiland, Central District and North East district, drawing thousands of Batswana. At one kgotla as many as 6,000 people jostled for just eight licences.

Those picked in the raffle would have to pay P8,000 for an elephant licence. The licence was not transferable and the elephant products not exportable, something Mokobi says is a disincentive. “If I don’t have that P8,000 and want to hunt an elephant, I should have that right as a Motswana,” he says. “The P8,000 fee should be for foreign trophy hunters, but as a Motswana I should be able to simply tell government that I want to hunt an elephant and should be given that right. “After all, I hand over the meat to the community and I don’t gain anything from the tusks.”

From April 6, the second season begins for citizen hunters, running to September 21. Notices have been put up at Wildlife Department offices around the country inviting applications for licences to hunt literally the A to Z of animal species, antelopes to zebra.

In Mokobi’s home district, Central, citizens can apply to hunt elephants, impala, kudu, ostriches and steenbok. In wildlife rich Ngamiland, the list includes warthog, duiker, wildebeest, kudu, zebra and elephant.

Wildlife director, Kabelo Senyatso says the season should be gazetted any day from now.

“We are awaiting the publishing in the Government Gazette,” he says.

“The gazetting is a short notice, but it states the opening of the season for the different arrangements or schemes available.

“We have the citizen hunting quota, the community trusts and the special quota which is exportable.”

While citizens were able to hunt last year, the communities and the special quota, comprising 70 elephant licences, did not.  Communities receive an allocation of hunting licences across species which they then offer via various tendering methods to locally registered safari hunting operators, who on-sell to international trophy hunters. Communities therefore benefit directly from the competitive bidding, while their tender rules are designed to retain as much value in the community.

 Bidders are required to hire community escort guides and provide them with transport from their homes and back. In addition, while bidding is open to international clients, they have to use Botswana registered safaris hunting companies when hunting.

Prior to the hunting ban, community trusts were earning up to P11 million from the hunting season.

The special elephant quota, meanwhile, raised more than P25 million at an auction last February, but the bidders who won could not secure clients as COVID-19 arrived and closed both local and international borders.

“With the citizen quota, they managed to hunt last season, but the community trusts and the special elephant quota were not utilised due to COVID-19,” Senyatso says.

“We have rolled over the allocations for community trusts and the special quota to this season.

“They will use the allocation from last season in this season.” Debbie Peake, the spokesperson of the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association which includes safari hunting operators and professional hunters, says members will make the most of the upcoming season, although there are constraints in terms of time and the lockdowns affecting trophy hunters in parts of Europe.

“International clients such as from the US can come in under difficult conditions, but several European Union countries have lockdowns in place preventing travel to Botswana,” she explains.

“They cannot travel and as long as our COVID-19 vaccination takes time, people may be reluctant. “However, the industry has put in place the strictest protocols in camps and amongst staff to protect clients.”

 She adds: “We will be reaching out to government for support and assistance to maximise the offtake allocated for this year.

“We want government to consider the time that we are in because of COVID-19 restrictions, in order to make the most of the quota we get.” As April 6 nears, hunters countrywide, whether a citizen, community trust or professional level, are preparing to participate in an industry as old as time.

Mokobi is still weighing whether he will participate. “I have to look at the prices of the licences and the species on offer. I would want to though.”

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