The African elephant has been on the U.S. Endangered Species Act list as a threatened species since 1978. About ⅓ of all remaining African elephants are somewhere within the borders of Botswana — the country with the highest elephant concentration of them all.
But now, that could all change.
Botswana has lifted the ban set by ex-President Ian Khama about a month ago, an initiative led by the current President, Mokgweeti Masisi.
As land continues to be converted by the human population for agricultural reasons, the natural habitat of the elephant continues to shrink at an alarming rate. This has lead to conflict between humans and elephants.
Botswana’s human population is roughly 2 million people, and their elephant population is around 130,000. Yet, while there is a lot of space for elephants to roam free, there has been more reported human-wildlife conflict in this country than anywhere else.
CNN reported being shown various Government documents revealing that 36 people had been killed by elephants in Botswana over the past 10 years. Furthermore, the damage in raided crops and destroyed fences and compensation for destroyed farmers’ livelihoods reached the $2 million mark last year.
The outrage for this decision continues and ex-president Khama said to CNN that “Masisi is just currying favor with the electorate” and that “It is a political move.” Indeed, this decision to lift the ban came about conveniently just months before the upcoming general elections in October.
Several wildlife protection agencies and even Hollywood celebrities are calling out for a tourism boycott to Botswana. They argue this decision could increase illegal poaching.
Though the government of Botswana stated on Friday that it plans to issue no more than 400 elephant hunting permits per year, some were not appeased by this. It has been argued that money paid by big-game hunters could be a source of substantial revenue for Botswana and could be used to fund conservation programs.
“Expect mass culling next,” Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect, posted on Twitter. The wildlife conservation organization Elephants Without Borders also claimed to have spotted as many as 500 carcasses from a plane. It would seem the culling has already started.
There has been an undeniable rise in illegal poaching in recent years due to 2 factors.
Firstly, the Asian demand for ivory has increased, and this has been accommodated by the fact elephant hunting is again legal in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa.
At the same time, the U.S. administration has reversed restrictions on the import of elephant trophies for personal use or display.
Secondly, the resources of these countries are arguably insufficient when it comes to anti-poaching capacity. This, coupled with weak law enforcement and general corruption levels, means they are a fertile breeding ground for possible illegal hunting.
Simultaneously, Botswana is now working with neighboring Namibia and Zimbabwe to change the classification of ivory to allow it to be sold on the market. But this can only add extra incentive for poachers looking to make a buck.
“They are not where we are and therefore don’t live our experience… it is always OK to be a critic from the comfort of your home,” said Environment, Wildlife and Tourism minister Kitso Mokaila to CNN and all the critics. Mokaila went on to say that shooting an elephant will be a warning to others and that this will create a safe-zone or buffer between people and elephants.
How the government of Botswana will spin this decision as something positive and accepted by the rest of the world, no one knows.
But that fact that President Masisi gave stools made out of elephant’s feet to the regional leaders back when he hosted the meeting on the subject isn’t promising.
It seems the African elephant will not be leaving the endangered list any time soon.