A global conservation body recently listed African elephants as endangered, sparking local concerns over the future of elephant hunts.
Botswana’s hunting season opened this week Monday, amid optimism from the hunting safari companies and local professional hunters, despite last month’s decision to put elephants on the red list.
It has been a dry period between 2014 and 2019 as the country was under a hunting moratorium. However, President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted the ban, largely driven by the desire to see communities benefit from wildlife resources.
The decision came during a period when the country was recording an increase in human-wildlife conflict, with Botswana’s elephant herd at more than 130,000 against a holding capacity of 55,000. Last year, the coronavirus (COVID-19) played havoc on the first hunting season since the ban was lifted. International hunters, who bring in the much-needed revenue, could not travel due to restrictions put in place to fight the pandemic.
This year, as hunters dusted their rifles in preparation for the first kill, the country was rocked by the news that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had listed the African savanna and forest elephants as endangered and critically endangered, respectively.
Poaching and loss of habitat were cited as the major factors for the decline in populations across the continent. But IUCN indicated while the numbers were dwindling at an alarming rate elsewhere, the situation was different in Botswana and other Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) states, which is home to the world’s largest elephant population.
IUCN took note of KAZA’s concerted elephant conservation and management efforts.
“Despite the overall declining trend of both African elephant species, the assessments also highlight the impact of successful conservation efforts. Anti-poaching measures on the ground, together with more supportive legislation and land use planning, which seeks to foster human-wildlife coexistence, have been key to successful elephant conservation. As a result, some forest elephants have stabilised in well-managed conservation areas in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. Savanna elephant numbers have also been stable or growing for decades, especially in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which harbours the largest subpopulation of this species on the continent,” the IUCN report notes.
Co-chair of the IUCN’s African Elephant Specialist Group, Ben Ouma-Okita told Mmegi that countries like Botswana, which have more numbers, are at liberty to use their domestic policies to manage populations.
Botswana’s director of Wildlife and National Parks, Kabelo Senyatso acknowledged the importance of the IUCN Red List and said the country uses the ratings as one of several tools in determining wildlife management. He, however, said the IUCN report assessed global extinction rather than country risk. The decision to red list the elephants, therefore, will not affect Botswana’s domestic policies, he said.
“The IUCN Red List assesses ‘extinction risk’, and does not regulate trade nor make any policy recommendations on trophy hunting, trade and/or off-take; this is because international wildlife trade is under the jurisdiction of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which is an international agreement between governments.
“On the other hand, IUCN is a Non-Governmental Organisation whose mission is to “influence, encourage and assist societies to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable”.
“Botswana does not need to seek for any permission from IUCN to trade in any of its
Senyatso emphasized that the decision to lift a ban on trophy hunting was meant to ensure communities benefit from wildlife resources and is not used as a measure to control wildlife numbers. Some conservationists have expressed concern over the re-introduction of hunting.
“The motivation for reinstatement of trophy hunting is as outlined in the Social Dialogue Report of 2018 that was commissioned by His Excellency President Eric K. Masisi, following the suspension of trophy hunting in 2014. In that Social Dialogue Report, Batswana overwhelmingly asked for the reinstatement of trophy hunting as this significantly improves their income generation opportunities within the Community Based Natural Resources Management (CNBRM) programmes that they run across rural Botswana. ‘Population control’ (more commonly known as ‘culling’) is not part of the Government of Botswana’s approach to managing elephants,” he explained.
KAZA director, Nyambe Nyambe said it was heartening to note that the IUCN report recognises the sound conservation policies within the conservation region.
“The decision explicitly recognises that the sub-populations in the several KAZA Partner States is ‘increasing’ or ‘stable’, and that is very positive news as it demonstrates that the wildlife management programmes within KAZA are beneficial for elephants. It also reaffirms the need to apply appropriate management options, measures, considerations, and decisions relative to the status of KAZA’s elephants – the largest viable and contiguous population in Africa. The outlook for the wellbeing of KAZA’s elephant populations hinges on maintaining their habitats and upon ensuring the spatial and temporal across the landscape,” he said.
Nyambe said the IUCN decision was not “strange” as it was based on a continent-wide assessment.
He said if KAZA partner states meet and have concerns over the listing, such will be communicated through the secretariat. Botswana hosts the KAZA secretariat.
Regarding the elephant hunts, Nyambe said communities needed to benefit from natural resources.
“Trophy hunting is an important source of income for communities who have embraced wildlife as an acceptable form of land use and has become institutionalised by the mandated agencies, on behalf of the governments, as a mechanism for benefit sharing with such communities within KAZA. Policies, legislation and regulations have been developed for trophy hunting of various wildlife species, including elephants, as a strategy for generating various tangible and intangible/financial or non-financial benefits,” he said.
On the impact of the red listing for KAZA states, Nyambe said there could be a reaction, particularly from international countries.
“Potentially, the listing may trigger public response, particularly in countries abroad, which could, in turn, threaten the viability of trophy hunting as a contributor to revenue generation for local communities in KAZA.”
He emphasised that KAZA member states have no plans for culling their elephant populations. Nyambe said the IUCN red listing of elephants does not affect domestic policies and legislation. He said trophy hunting, subject to several factors including domestic policies and international markets is likely to remain an important component of the KAZA wildlife-based economy as long as no bans on trophy importation are put in place by countries whose citizens pay to hunt in Africa.
The IUCN report indicates forest elephant numbers fell by 86% in the past 31 years and savanna elephants by about 60% in the past half-century.