Botswana: Masisi’s Threat to Send 30,000 Elephants At Odds With Trophy Hunting Threat to Elephants, and People
Adam Cruise - All Africa

Botswana has threatened to send 10,000 elephants to the UK and another 20,000 to Germany as UK and European countries move toward banning the import of hunting trophies. According to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, Botswana is heavily overpopulated with elephants, which he believes will be solved by trophy hunting.



Elephants near Pom Pom Camp, Okavango Delta in Botswana (file photo)

The threat, of course, is rhetorical since it is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations for any African country to export even one live elephant beyond its natural range.

Masisi’s threat, which he has highly politicised, aims to highlight the supposed elephant overpopulation and human-elephant conflict which he ascribes to this, is also believed to be an election ploy, as he did in the elections of 2019  , to garner rural votes with promises of income from trophy hunting and distract voters from many real issues.

The UK and other European nations are not forcing a hunting ban on Africa but rather simply acceding to the democratic wishes of their citizens who do not want the remains of trophy-hunted animals imported to their own countries.

Masisi’s predecessor, former president Ian Khama, who had banned trophy hunting, believes Masisi “just wants to curry favour with the electorate with empty promises”.

Off the back of the President’s threats, Botswana’s environment and tourism minister, Dumezweni Mthimkhulu told SkyNews  that elephant numbers in Botswana have almost “tripled” – causing “a lot of chaos”, with the animals in “constant conflict with humans”. Mthimkhulu said the UK bill to ban the import of hunting trophies would be “counterproductive” and “discourage the people who are living with these animals from conserving and protecting them”.

The Minister and President Masisi propose that trophy hunting will solve Botswana’s supposed elephant overpopulation and, by design, reduce human-elephant conflict, as well as create a source of income for impoverished communities.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

No Explosion in Elephant Numbers

While elephant numbers in the region are the highest in Africa, the claim that Botswana’s elephant population is exploding is a myth.

According to a recent KAZA survey, elephant populations in Botswana show a statistically insignificant growth rate of only 1.3% growth per year since the last survey in 2019.

Botswana-based organisation, Elephants Without Borders (EWB) also released a technical review of the KAZA elephant survey. Contrary to Masisi’s claims, the review reveals that trends in the Botswana population are a cause for concern.

The review flags the high levels of poaching indicated by high carcass ratios across Botswana. A carcass ratio of 8% or higher means a declining population in which deaths exceed birth rates. Carcass ratios increasing from 8% to 12% for Botswana means it’s roughly one dead elephant for every ten live ones counted.


Poaching and Trophy Hunting

Trophy hunting in Botswana is exacerbating the increasing pressure from poaching. Poaching is increasing in the concessions near the Chobe National Park. Gangs seem to be operating with impunity. Ten fresh elephant carcasses were discovered last week in the area. Their tusks had all been removed. The technical review indicates that elephant populations are decreasing in trophy hunting areas and increasing in core conservation areas

Botswana was flagged for non-compliance under CITES for failing to submit annual reports necessary for validating hunting off-take of elephants. This, along with Botswana’s failure to provide any transparent scientific basis for hunting off-takes, indicates that hunting quotas are not based on scientific data.

The already overly high hunting quotas (414 elephants for the 2024 hunting season) will not affect curbing the numbers of the Botswana population of some 130,000 and hunting near and within photographic tourism zones as well as the deployment of aerial support to search for large tuskers and killing elephant bulls near artificial waterholes will only serve to alienate international opinion and prospective tourists.

Human-elephant coexistence

Contrary to Masisi’s claim that trophy hunting will reduce human-elephant conflict, research by the University of Exeter suggests that removing older male elephants, mainly the targets of trophy hunting, could lead to an increase in human-wildlife conflict. The study found that, with fewer older bull elephants around, younger male elephants were more likely to be aggressive towards vehicles, livestock, and humans.

Furthermore, crop raiding is most often conducted by younger elephants, not the older bulls targeted by trophy hunters, and crop raiding can and does take place outside the season for hunting.

The real problem is not one of “overpopulation” but rather of humans cutting off connecting corridors which elephants – and all wildlife – use to migrate in search of water, food, and habitat. Creating corridors will reduce human-elephant interactions, which are already being put in place across the country where elephants roam.

There are already several other alternatives in place to mitigate human-elephant conflict. With the assistance of EWT and other NGOs, elephant corridors have been demarcated to allow safe travel for elephants moving through crops and villages between water sources and their grazing and browsing grounds. Using solar-powered electric barriers, sound horns, flashing lights, capsicum canisters, and beehives has been proven effective in keeping elephants away.

A farmer of several agricultural blocks maintained that since the erection of electric wires around his blocks in 2019, he has not had a single elephant eat his crops. He scoffed at the claim that trophy hunting benefits villages, stating instead that: “We are all farmers here, we make our living from growing food and raising cows. We do not sit around and wait for handouts.”

Minister Mthimkhulu invited British politicians to “come and see” for themselves. Perhaps he may do well to visit these communities himself. The first thing that any visitor will notice in rural communities where trophy hunting is prevalent are the extremely high levels of poverty.

Studies have shown that trophy hunting obstructs the development of more meaningful activities like photographic tourism, while the proceeds from trophy hunting are so miniscule that individual community members are practically receiving nothing.

It is, therefore, clear that any claim that trophy hunting in Botswana benefits wildlife conservation, reduces conflict, and increases human livelihoods is a gross misrepresentation. In Botswana, trophy hunting is responsible for a system that stimulates corruption, exploitation, and fraudulent practices.

Dr Adam Cruise is an award-winning South African investigative journalist and academic who has conducted extensive research on the conservation and rural community development practices in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.


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