Botswana lifts ban on elephant hunting

The South African nation, where 130,000 elephants live – more than anywhere else on the continent – imposed the ban in 2014 to help recover the declining numbers of poachers and shrinking habitats.

Late on Wednesday, the Botswana government scrapped the ban and raised criticism from some environmental groups and protectors. It cited increasing conflicts between humans and elephants, as well as the need to make money from conservation efforts.

"Preservation is in our DNA, we have never been reckless, our responsibility for preservation has not changed, but our responsibility to the people has not changed either," said Kitso Mokaila, minister of environment, nature and tourism at a press conference on Thursday in the capital, Gaborone. He claimed that the ban had always been temporary.

Earlier this year, a cabinet group in Botswana recommended elephant holds and a factory to be able to handle elephant meat. The proposals have had a major impact.

"That was clearly a test balloon," said Derick Joubert, a well-known conservationist and filmmaker, and added, "This was always about hunting."

Every year dozens of people are killed or injured by elephants in Botswana, while people invade wild areas. But several conservationists and groups, some of whom did not want them to appear on the record, said they doubted the hunt for help.

"When it comes to community and natural violence conflicts, there are dozens and dozens of options that can be used before driving out the weapons," Joubert told CNN. "Many people would be willing to raise a lot of money and ideas to help communities before we resort to killing animals."

A moral choice

The African elephant is classified as vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The first Big Elephant Census, a pan-African survey conducted in 2016, revealed that in just seven years between 2007 and 2014, elephant numbers plummeted by at least 30% or 144,000.

But hunting big game, including elephants, is a common practice in the neighboring countries of southern Africa. The governments of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa claim that well-guided hunting can help preserve herds by channeling profits for conservation and protecting ecosystems from the destructive power of large elephant populations.

There is an ongoing debate about the true value of hunting permits compared to tourist dollars. The Botswana government said it would grant a maximum of 400 permits per year for photographing elephants.

All in all, tourism generates far more jobs and income than hunting, according to photographic safari travelers and former hunters.

Many scientists and conservationists also believe that protecting elephants is a moral obligation.

Botswana muzzles the turning of elephants into animal feed and the lifting of a hunting ban

"It is a morally repulsive issue, the equivalent of shooting dogs, cats, whales or great apes," said the founder of Save the Elephants, Iain Douglas-Hamilton.

Multiple studies show that elephants are highly intelligent, conscious beings who are aware of what is happening in their environment, and express fear and stress when other members of their species are killed.

"Hunting is an outdated practice that has no place in the modern world," the Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu told CNN.

Hunters prefer the largest bulls, with the largest tusks.

This can disrupt sex distribution and affect the ecology of the elephant, causing the strongest and most informed of the species to come from the gene pool.

But the same experts say that with proper management, hunting alone will not drive the species to extinction. Douglas-Hamilton told CNN that if the practice is properly managed, the total number of elephants will not be affected.

However, poaching can exterminate the population. And in some parts of the continent that has already happened.

A slippery slope?

The sale of ivory is currently prohibited by an international agreement on trade in endangered species.

But with the support of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are making a new appeal to lift restrictions on the sale of unprocessed ivory.

Those countries account for more than half of the world's elephants and have millions of dollars in supplies that they say could be sold and taken back in nature conservation.

A few weeks ago, when they debated the ivory ban at a summit in Botswana, the host government presented the visiting leaders with stools with elephant legs.

It was a strange gift for a country that wanted to maintain its credibility.

Regional leaders received the gifts at a May 6 summit in Kasane

But it also points to a change under President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has adopted a clearly different attitude towards nature conservation and hunting than his predecessor.

Both Kahumbu and Douglas-Hamilton said they fear that the decision to hunt is a step toward opening up the ivory trade – something that conservatives largely agree to cause poaching and ultimately extinction.

Spike in poaching

And poaching is already emerging in the country once considered a model wildlife haven.

In September last year, the respected nature conservation group Elephants Without Borders released a study that included an & # 39; unprecedented & # 39; showed an increase in poaching elephants.

Nearly 90 elephant carcasses were found during an aerial survey in the north of the country, compared to nine during the previous audit of the region in 2014, it turned out.

The research was largely funded by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Botswana. But the government criticized the methodology of the report and claimed that it actually showed that elephant numbers & # 39; stable & # 39; goods.

The environment minister, Mokaila, said that Botswana is being punished and wrongly criticized for their sound nature management. And they've hired a New York-based PR firm to help make their business.

"Why are we being punished for our success in preservation and why are we being punished for coming up with solutions?" he asked.

CNN & # 39; s Chandler Thornton in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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