Nearly 6,000 people thronged the Maun main kgotla last Friday for a raffle to win licences for eight elephants. As the near impossibility of even securing one dawned and the strict rules around the licences were spelt out, many left feeling disillusioned. Mmegi Correspondent, BONIFACE KEAKABETSE was amongst the crowd
The announcement by government that hunting would be reintroduced, prioritising Batswana for this season, drew much excitement.
Five years after the hunting moratorium caught many unawares, the doors for direct sustainable use were being opened. Elephants in particular, whose numbers have ballooned under the moratorium, increasing human/wildlife conflict, are top of the value chain in terms of commercial use and many welcomed the declaration of a hunting season.
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) announced that 86 elephant hunting licences spread across specific areas, particularly those with human/wildlife conflict, would be made available to Batswana this season. These licences would be allocated on a raffle basis and those picked during the raffle would be expected to pay P8,000 for the licences.
It is 8am, Friday September 20, 2019, the day that countrywide raffles are due to be held.
A throng of people from all corners of Maun has travelled expectedly to the kgotla. Trails of dust linger along the dusty arterial village roads connecting the Maun main kgotla to the many wards of the village.
It is a big day; a long awaited day and the ecstatic gathering includes the young and the old, drawn from Maun’s 55,000-strong population.
Numbers show that at least 30,076 people have registered to participate in the raffles across the various species on offer, which include impala, baboons, ostriches, warthogs, steenboks, duikers, wildebeest and kudu. At least 5,990 have registered for the raffle for the eight elephant licences in Maun, which is under the concession known officially as NG9.
Citizens hunting quotas were stopped in Botswana more than a decade ago, something that explains the massive interest.
Youthful Tambulani Setlalekgosi, 17, from Riverside ward in Maun is one of many amongst youngsters in the crowd.
He says he wants to try his luck and apply for a licence to hunt an elephant.
“I want to taste the meat of an elephant. I have never tasted it before.” Later, Setlalekgosi was in despair as he was amongst many to walk away empty-handed, having lost in the raffle.
At the kgotla, the crowd sits down with high expectation. In no time wildlife officials enter the arena carrying with them different items required for the raffle.
DWNP officer, Segomotso Boitshwarelo tells the kgotla that Ngamiland District, which includes the Maun Administrative Authority and Okavango sub-district, has a total of seven hunting concessions.
Out of this number, Maun Administrative Authority has been allocated only one hunting concession, NG9. Okavango sub district has six hunting concessions: NG1, NG2, NG3, NG7, NG8 and NG11.
In NG9, a total of 111 animals are being raffled for.
A collective moan of disappointment surges through the crowd when Boitshwarelo confirms that only eight elephant licences will be up for grabs. Ngamiland, the heart of Botswana’s elephant population and the main arena for human wildlife conflict, had expected far more elephant licences.
But even more frustration is on the horizon for the restless crowd.
The raffle is conducted and the lucky few secure their licences, including the wife of an MP.
Then the Ts and Cs drop.
Those who have won licences for elephants cannot transfer them to anyone else. They cannot sell or export the tusks. On the hunt, they have to have a professional hunter and professional guide, as well as a tracking team and DWNP personnel with them. These conditions will be enforced strictly with all types of penalties and censures in place.
It is a costly undertaking, not to mention that the P8,000 winners of the raffle have to pay for the actual elephant hunting licence. The benefits outside of the ‘thrill of the hunt’ are not very clear.
Once the raffle is over, disgruntled murmurs begin to circulate in the kgotla. Many still express their support for the return of hunting, but they are unhappy with the conditions, particularly the fact that they cannot transfer the licences.
“Winners for other game licences are allowed to transfer the licences,” someone says unhappily.
Bogosi Thutoetsile, 53, from Shashe ward in Maun is one of the lucky ones picked for an elephant licence.
“When the government announced the citizen hunting quota, I immediately applied. I am happy that I have ‘won an elephant’.
“I had hoped I would be able to sell the tusks.
“I don’t eat elephant meat so I do not know what I am going to do with it.
“I think as citizens we should be allowed to sell the licences to commercial hunters or export the tusks to improve our livelihoods.”
The cost of the licence is another concern for Thutoetsile.
“That money is too much when you consider that I cannot sell the tusks. There are other costs I will incur like transportation and accommodation costs to NG9 to hunt the elephant.”
By comparison, Keneilwe Dikgang, 25, of Kgosing ward in Maun who secured a hunting licence for an impala, is ecstatic.
Although she lost out on the elephant, the idea of hunting an impala is an experience she is eager for.
“It will be my first time to eat an impala. We have never seen or eaten the meat of these animals.
“I think it’s commendable that the government has reintroduced hunting because this will boost food security in our impoverished areas.”
College graduate, Atomick Chaba, is amongst the many who applied for the elephant and walked away empty-handed.
“This was the first time in my life to partake in this raffle. I heard that it used to happen many years ago.
“However, there is limited information from the government about hunting.
“I think public education on hunting needs to be undertaken in terms of how the hunting industry operates.”
Chaba adds: “I think all the people who have won the elephants must be allowed to sell the elephants to the professional trophy hunters.
“People in Ngamiland are poor. They cannot be expected to win these elephants for their meat only. They must be able to sell their licences to trophy hunters and use the funds to improve their livelihoods.”
For his part, Okavango Kopano Mokoro Community Trust (OKMCT) vice-chairperson, Edwin Maleho urges government to expedite the introduction of trophy hunting in community concessions.
“OKMCT has made a proposal to be allocated a hunting quota in NG35,” he reveals.
The government appears aware of the concerns expressed by citizens, but says the current season is basically to test the hunting guidelines and gauge the demand amongst Batswana for hunting. The real test will come next year when the hunting season is opened in earnest between April and September.
For now, the approach is ‘slow and cautious’ to reintroduce hunting, but with the focus on how to ensure communities and citizens benefit the most.