By Barbara Crown
When Botswana President Ian Khama imposed a suspension of all hunting on government and community lands in 2014, he promised that rural Botswanans would find jobs in the ecotourism market and that the government would provide protection and compensation from problem animals.
Five years later, the government has lifted its moratorium on hunting, citing community needs for income and relief from increasing damages and loss of life due to wildlife conflicts. The decision was announced by current Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Onkokame Mokaila, on 22 May, 2019, after a year of consultation between government and rural communities.
In a press conference held the next day, Mokaila said it was critical that the “Conservation Conversation” change to include people as well as wildlife. Since the moratorium on hunting in Botswana’s government and community areas, populations of key species have expanded beyond traditional ranges and into areas where they were rarely or never seen before. An escalation in human / wildlife conflicts is only one consequence of that expansion. A less quantifiable result is that communities that were previously conservation minded have become almost anti-wildlife. (View a video recording of the press conference on Facebook at BWgovernment.)
On his Facebook page (@OfficialMasisi), Botswana President Mokgweetsi E. K. Masisi addresses this consequence of the hunting suspension, citing a “deep unhappiness about the hunting ban among rural people who felt they weren’t consulted when the ban was first imposed. Combined with the destructive impact of [wildlife] overpopulation, this has transformed rural people’s traditional concern for wildlife into resentment, leading many to take up poaching.”
Prior to the hunting suspension, communities felt they were part of the effort to manage and maintain wildlife, said Mokaila. However, the decision to suspend hunting was made without the participation or input of the people living with wildlife. Without the benefits of income from hunting, jobs in the hunting industry and meat derived from hunting, communities lost their commitment to wildlife.
According to Mokaila, they developed the view that wildlife is the property and responsibility of the government. With the increased destruction of agriculture, lost grazing areas for cattle and the sharp rise in human deaths from wildlife encounters, communities no longer participated in protecting that wildlife. Poaching rose, and communities that previously reported these activities no longer shared information that would prevent poaching or help capture poachers.
Both Mokaila and Masisi admit that the problems reported by rural communities are mostly the result of one particular species’ overpopulation in Botswana. Regardless, they maintain that the end of the hunting suspension is not intended to reduce the number of these animals but rather to incentivize communities to participate in wildlife conservation again, to offset the various costs of living with these animals and reduce the 30 million Botswana Pulas burden to government in addressing those costs each year.
“In this way, we will restore [wildlife’s] economic value to rural populations,” said Masisi. “In turn, this will provide local communities with a strong incentive to protect … wildlife from habitat loss, poaching and anything else that threatens their survival. In short, as they realise the economic benefits of wildlife resources, local communities will become increasingly committed to sustainable wildlife management and conservation ‒ a commitment that will benefit both Botswana’s people and Botswana’s [wildlife].”
In response to Botswana’s decision to open hunting again and its recognition that community involvement is critical to wildlife conservation, Safari Club International President, Paul Babaz, said: “We thank the president and all others involved in Botswana for their forward thinking and having the courage to bypass doing what is easy in order to do what is right for the benefit of the wildlife of Botswana and the people of Botswana.”
Hunting as management, not population control
During the press conference, Mokaila framed hunting as a management tool to direct the expansion of wildlife away from areas where they conflict with people. Although a committee recommended that Botswana considered culling some of its wildlife to reduce numbers, he says the idea was rejected by the ministry, despite what some media outlets reported, and the inflammatory posts distributed on social media.
One Facebook post by someone under the name of ‘Cecil the Lion’ claimed that Botswana was culling animals to “make more room for farmers”. That’s a rather callous characterisation of the lost livelihoods and lives of poor rural Africans. The photo used in the post shows several animals, including two babies, lying on the ground, presumably dead. However, the foreground of the photo clearly shows a veterinary dart in one of the animals’ side. The photo, according to Michael Angelides of the Tanzanian Hunting Operators Association, is from a darting programme from the 1980s and has nothing to do with culling or hunting in Botswana.
“Botswana has never used culling practices,” Mokaila said, “and we are not going to cull now. Those reports are false.”
While the details about how hunting will be organised again in the country are currently being worked out, the minister indicated that hunting areas would be designated to help steer wildlife away from areas of human habitation. Buffer zones around agricultural areas and other places will be created. Also, hunting will take place only in areas away from and not conducive to photographic areas, so none of the current ecotourism concessions will be converted to hunting. Of course, areas where there is wildlife / human conflict will also be locations where hunting can occur.
The former Community Based Natural Resource Management programme will be remodeled to give communities more benefits and incentivize increased management. That includes having 50 per cent of the income stay in the community trusts. There will also be methods to hold communities accountable for their conservation efforts. Additionally, operations in government hunting concessions will be required to provide a 25 per cent shareholding scheme to the communities in exchange for long leases of up to 30 years. Concessions may also be smaller, compared to the huge, wide open areas of the past.
As for the species available, all species listed as huntable species in Schedule 7 of the Botswana Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act will be huntable again, including leopard, lion and other key species. Science-based quotas will be set to ensure that the number of animals taken is less than those born each year. The minister assured that all actions will be based on rule of existing wildlife law.
For the industry perspective on these changes, Safari Times checked in with Debbie Peake of Mochaba Developments and with the Botswana Wildlife Management Association, which serves as the association for safari operators in that country. (While hunting on government and community areas had not been possible, hunting for plains game on private ranches in Botswana continued legally.)
“This is a huge step forward and we want to be part of the next phase,” said Peake. “It won’t be as it was before. While we will have some large open areas, the old concession hunting system is a thing of the past. The numbers and aesthetics are still here; the techniques will be the same, but we can’t say how, where, when or how many right now. If we have hunting this season, we will be happy, but we can wait a few more months, if necessary. The communities must be centre stage right now.”
SCI’s Babaz said: “Botswana’s wisdom in this matter is a valuable example for the entire world. They need to be able to manage their own wildlife so that there WILL be more wildlife in wild places in harmony with the people for generations to come.”
A firestorm of controversy
Botswana’s announcement drew an angry outcry of protest from abroad, particularly on social media. Other media outlets ranged from fairly balanced stories to claims that Botswana had approved the wholesale slaughter of wildlife across the country. In response to the bitter criticism, mostly from the United Kingdom and the United States, Mokaila pointed out that Southern Africa has more of the Big Five species than the rest of the continent, and Botswana has one of the lowest poaching rates. Populations of one key species are higher in Botswana than in any other African country.
“Why are we then being punished for our success?” he asked. “About 40 per cent of our land is devoted to wildlife. How can we be accused of not loving wildlife when we give so much for it?” He went on to say that Botswana’s commitment to conservation has not changed, but that human beings who live with wildlife must be considered and made part of the solution to conserving wildlife and wild habitat.
“We have a great number of people losing lives due to wildlife conflicts,” he said. “I have had people visit my office to talk about wildlife, but none have mentioned the people who live with it.”
Safari Club International Foundation President, Warren Sackman, encouraged Mokaila in a recent letter offering support to Botswana in its pursuit to expand the nature of its conservation programmes.
“SCIF believes that African range states and local communities are the best managers of their own wildlife,” he wrote. “Further, SCIF applauds you for reinstituting hunting tourism on state lands. We agree with the recommendations of the Cabinet Subcommittee to implement wildlife management in a sustainable, science-based and ethical manner. SCIF is committed to working with you to establish this management programme and develop a strong safari hunting industry in Botswana.”
Botswana participated in the African Wildlife Consultative Forum hosted by SCIF last year in Uganda for the first time since Khama imposed the hunting suspension. The forum is a high-level meeting of African governments, professional hunting association leadership, CITES, USFWS, other NGOs, international policy experts and wildlife biologists. It is organized by SCIF every year and designed as a forum for African wildlife managers and leaders to collaborate on management issues and successful solutions specific to African needs and conditions.
As soon as more developments occur in Botswana hunting, SCI will inform members in an email news bulletin. Members should keep an eye on their inbox. Of course, future issues of Safari Times will cover developments in further depth.
Why Botswana lifted the hunting suspension
An army of critics, mostly from the United Kingdom and the United States, have pelted Botswana President Mokgweetsi E. K. Masisi and his ministry with complaints, insults and accusations over the lifting of a hunting suspension imposed in that country in 2014 by Ian Khama, who was president at that time. Khama has recently been quoted as saying the lifting of the suspension is strictly a political move to collect votes for the upcoming election. However, numerous media outlets in Botswana had reported on communities voicing concerns and dissatisfaction with the suspension since it went into effect.
In 2018, Parliament decided to review the moratorium and created a Cabinet Subcommittee on Hunting Ban Social Dialogue. A series of nationwide meetings took place with communities and their leaders, local authorities, NGOs, tourism businesses, conservationists, researchers and other stakeholders. The committee’s reported findings cover five general areas:
• The number and high levels of human-wildlife conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods were increasing.
• Predators had increased and were killing large numbers of livestock.
• There was a negative impact on the livelihoods of people, especially those from community-based organi- sations that previously benefited from consumptive use.
• The Department of Wildlife and National Parks was unable to respond on a timely basis to the many com- munity reports of problem animal incidents.
• The general consensus of those consulted was that the suspension on hunting should be lifted.
Indeed, the populations of one key dangerous-game species in Botswana have historically grown by 7 percent each year, with hunting quotas set for only one per cent. And as the minister also revealed at the press conference, the complete quota for this species has never been taken.
One source told Safari Times that the scientific term ‘carrying capacity’ had become a ‘dirty word’ in Botswana.
What is interesting is that the Botswana Vision 2016 initiative, which was still in place during Khama’s presidency, stated that controlled and sustainable hunting would continue as a major contributor to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods. Regardless, Khama phased hunting out over a five-year period anyway, starting with the conversion of numerous hunting concessions to ecotourism in 2010. He imposed a 25-km buffer zone around national parks and 10-mile buffer zones along international borders in 2011. The final suspension was announced at the end of 2012 in his State of Nation address.
Barbara Crown is a contributor to Safari Club International’s Safari Times and is currently operating the organisation’s newly-created member benefit, the Hunter Information Service. She previously served as editor of The Hunting Report Newsletter for 20 year, reporting on news developments in sustainable-use conversation and hunting around the world. ASM