What does a new licensing policy mean for Botswana’s wildlife?

Reactions trail Botswana’s decision to issue elephant hunting licences to hunters
Elephants drink water in one of the dry channel of the wildlife reach Okavango Delta near the Nxaraga village in the outskirt of Maun, on 28 September 2019. – The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s last remaining great wildlife habitat and provides refuge to huge concentrations of game. Botswana government declared this year as a drought year due to no rain fall through out the country. (Photo by MONIRUL BHUIYAN / AFP)

These are tricky times for wildlife in Botswana, as the government of the Southern African nation has issued over 70 licenses to hunt elephants, not too long after authorities lifted a ban on wildlife hunting which had lasted for five years. The licences in question were issued on February 7, 2020 at an auction, which was closed from public viewing and whose organizers have been reticent with details.

In a situation, similar to the biblical case of “the new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph”, the former president of Botswana was hugely opposed to elephant hunting and instituted a ban on the practice, but the new administration has gone on to issue more licences to elephant hunters. The current reasoning is that the population of elephants has increased across the country’s main regions, and allowing hunters to go for elephants would lead to a significant reduction in human-wildlife conflict.

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The rhetoric of Botswana’s current president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, is that elephants are becoming too many and are now trampling farmlands in search of food on a regular basis. The licences extend beyond hunting, with the hunters receiving authority to kill the elephants too. The hunting season begins in April, and the hunting package for the licensees is expected to cost between $300,000 and $500,000.

Residents of areas in respect of which these hunting licences have been issued have argued in favour of the government’s recent decision. Beyond the promise of increased protection and less wildlife invasion to their farmlands, they have claimed that conservationists – most of whom are foreign – have refused to direct the profits of wildlife tourism to those regions where elephants have hitherto been allowed to roam freely.

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The issuance of these elephant hunting licences is sure to provide income for state wildlife departments. However, it remains to be seen what the future holds for wildlife in Botswana. The best that wildlife enthusiasts can hope for is the regulation of these licences and discipline on the part of the hunters; otherwise the dangers associated with poaching are likely to arise. If those who have acquired these licences get too trigger-happy, Botswana may have an ecological crisis on its hands.

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