Botswana insisted this week that it would not be intimidated by conservationists from the West, who are mobilising against it following a government report that recommended that elephants should be culled.
The Cabinet sub-committee, which has been consulting the nation on whether to lift the hunting ban has proposed that it be lifted, but the southern African nation is now facing pushback from the West’s animal activists who have threatened to boycott its tourism industry.
But Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi is unmoved by the threats, as he dug his heels in this week insisting he “will not be intimidated”.
Following reports that Botswana intends to lift a 2014 trophy hunting ban, the social media and the international press, especially the Western media have been awash with reports that some animal activists and tourists planned to boycott Botswana’s tourism industry.
The move comes amid growing tension over the nation’s elephant population, with some arguing that the number of elephants has grown and that the animals are damaging crops.
The country is home to the world’s largest elephant population, with estimates putting the number at about 130,000 elephants.
Masisi insisted that he was “not going to be intimidated while wildlife kills our people”.
Speaking at a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) regional congress, Masisi said: “I run a consultative government. We have a problem with human-wildlife conflict. I never said we will go all out and kill all elephants in Botswana.”
He revealed that he has offered his critics some of the elephants and “they are welcome to help us reduce their population”.
“We had to backtrack and consult about it (whether to lift hunting ban or not). Where do they get the guts to tell us how we should take care of our wildlife when they do not have anything? I was in England with minister Unity Dow where I told them that their problem was they are talking elephant issues as if there are no people. I said to them that we will give you 200 elephants in England and just let them roam all over (just) as you want them to in Botswana,” fumed Masisi.
Masisi accused the Western critics of being disrespectful and observed that there are “some of our own helping them disrespect Batswana”.
“They think we are stupid having our people terrorised by these animals in areas they are not even supposed to be. I still encourage them to come and get them and then maybe we can talk, as they would know what the animals are capable of. We can even add lions, buffalos, leopards and cheetahs,” a defiant Masisi said.
In its report, the committee recommended, among others, that the ban is lifted, the government develop a legal framework that will create an enabling environment for the growth of the safari hunting industry.
The committee proposed that Botswana manage the population of elephant within its historic range. It also recommended that the department of wildlife undertake an effective outreach programme within the elephant range to reduce human/wildlife conflict.
The committee also proposed that Botswana strategically erect human/wildlife conflict fences in a few hotspot areas and game ranches be demarcated to serve as buffers between communal and wildlife areas.
It recommended the closure of wildlife migration routes that are not beneficial to the country’s conservation efforts.
It also recommended the introduction of regular but limited elephant culling; establishment of elephant meat canning including the production of pet food and processing into other by-products from culled elephants. Masisi said a white paper will follow and would be shared with the public.
Former President Ian Khama’s administration introduced the hunting ban in 2014.
In another related matter, Botswana’s tourism ministry has questioned a new report by an organisation contracted by the government in 2018 to conduct an aerial survey of elephants in the north of the country.
The ministry’s permanent secretary Thato Raphaka said the government was not happy with the report by Mike Chase from Elephants Without Borders. According to Raphaka, “It is regrettable that Dr Chase, in a report purporting to be scientific, includes an astonishing number of pictures of dead elephants, 63 pages to be precise.”
He noted that “this definitely is not standard practice in aerial survey reporting”.
Raphaka said that another interesting point is that the authors reported that the carcass ratio had progressively increased from 2% in 2010 to 7% in 2014 and 8% in 2018.
“The 2014 figure is almost four times higher than the 2010 figure but the authors did not sound the alarm at the time. Instead at the time, the authors considered Botswana an elephant safe haven. Surely greater concerns should have been expressed after the 2014 survey than now when the ratio is only slightly higher,” said Raphaka.
He, however, acknowledged that the government was “under no illusion that poaching has become a threat to Botswana with her large elephant population”.
But Chase insists that “elephant poaching in Botswana is happening on the scale I proclaim”.
He said: “By continually denying the extent of poaching, we might be undermining international support. I believe that in avoiding transparency, we could be exposed to a potential threat that can adversely affect our tourism, our economy, our international reputation as a country that is the conservation flagship of Africa, as well as the rule of law.”
According to Chase, “I have dedicated my life’s work to conservation in Botswana, the country of my birth, and I will continue my life and my work as a dedicated elephant conservationist, researcher and academic.”
By Mpho Tebele