SANKUYO, Botswana — Lions have been coming out of the surrounding bush, prowling around homes and a small health clinic, to snatch goats and donkeys from the heart of Sankuyo, a village on the edge of one of Africa’s great inland deltas.
Elephants, too, are becoming frequent, unwelcome visitors, gobbling up the beans, maize and watermelons that took farmers months to grow.
Since Botswana banned trophy hunting two years ago, remote communities like Sankuyo have been at the mercy of growing numbers of wild animals that are hurting livelihoods and driving terrified villagers into their homes at dusk. The hunting ban has also meant a precipitous drop in income.
Over the years, villagers had used money from trophy hunters, mostly Americans, to install toilets and water pipes, build houses for the poorest, and give scholarships to the young and pensions to the old. Calls to curb trophy hunting across Africa have risen since a lion in Zimbabwe, named Cecil by researchers tracking it, was killed in July by a US dentist.
Several airlines have stopped transporting trophies from hunts, and lawmakers in New Jersey have introduced legislation that would further restrict their import into the United States.
But in Sankuyo and other rural communities near where the wild animals live, many are calling for a return to hunting.
African governments have also condemned, some with increasing anger, Western moves to ban trophy hunting. “Before, when there was hunting, we wanted to protect those animals because we knew we earned something out of them,” said Jimmy Baitsholedi Ntema, a villager in his 60s.
“Now we don’t benefit at all from the animals.
The elephants and buffaloes leave after destroying our plowing fields during the day. Then, at night, the lions come into our kraals (villages).”
In early 2014, sparsely populated Botswana became one of a few African countries with abundant wildlife to end trophy hunting, the practice at the core of conservation efforts in southern Africa.
President Ian Khama of Botswana, a staunch defender of animal rights, stated that hunting was no longer compatible with wildlife conservation and urged communities like Sankuyo to switch to photographic tourism. The decision was cheered by animal-welfare groups in the West.
Botswana is an outlier. Government officials and conservationists in most African countries staunchly support trophy hunting, including Zambia, which is going back to hunting after a short-lived suspension.
“Zambia has always hunted from time immemorial,” Jean Kapata, Zambia’s minister of tourism, said in a phone interview.
“Zambia is a sovereign nation, and therefore people should respect the rules we have in our country.” Zambia recently lifted a two-year ban on hunting leopards, and lion hunting is likely to resume next year. In 2013, Zambia curbed trophy hunting and imposed a blanket ban on hunting the big cats, also in an effort to replace trophy hunting with photographic tourism. But that brought little income compared to hunting, Kapata said, while lions increasingly stalked villages for livestock.
During the hunting ban, a local councillor was killed by a lion, she said. “We had a lot of complaints from local communities,” Kapata said. “In Africa, a human being is more important than an animal.
I don’t know about the Western world,” she added, echoing a complaint in affected parts of Africa that the West seemed more concerned with the welfare of a lion in Zimbabwe than of Africans.
Zambia’s quick reversal points to the central role that trophy hunting has played in managing wildlife in southern Africa, where the industry’s emergence in the 1960s helped restore degraded habitats and revive certain species.
In South Africa, the biggest market, hunting occurs on private game ranches.
But in the rest of the region, it takes place mostly on communal lands where villages like Sankuyo are supposed to receive a cut of the fees paid by trophy hunters.
Sankuyo, a village of about 700, sits just east of the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana, which has one of the richest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.
In 1996, Sankuyo signed on to a community-based natural-resources programme that focused on hunting and was supported by the US government. In 2010, Sankuyo earned nearly $600,000 from the 120 animals — including 22 elephants, 55 impalas and nine buffaloes — that it was allowed to offer to trophy hunters that year, said Brian Child, an associate professor at the University of Florida, who is leading a study on the impact of the ban.
Botswana’s wildlife officials, who set the annual quotas, last allowed a lion to be hunted in Sankuyo in 2006.
Among the benefits to the community, 20 households chosen by lottery received outdoor toilets, all painted in pastel colors that stand out in a village turned brown in the dry season. Standpipes were installed in courtyards, connecting 40 families to running water.
“That’s what made people appreciate conservation,” said Gokgathang Timex Moalosi, 55, Sankuyo’s chief.
“We told them, ‘That lion or elephant has paid for your toilet or your standpipe.’
Botswana’s swelling population of elephants, accounting for a third of the total in Africa, is clashing increasingly with a growing human population.
“We’re experiencing an exponential increase in conflicts between animals and human beings,” said Israel Khura NATO, head of the Botswana Department of Wildlife’s problem-animal control unit in Maun, a town two hours from Sankuyo.
According to the department, such conflicts recorded nationwide rose to 6,770 in 2014 from 4,361 in 2012. Poaching incidents increased to 323 in 2014 from 309 in 2012.
“Photographic tourism is not that viable in those areas,” said Joseph Mbaiwa, the Okavango Research Institute’s acting director.
The New York Times