Conservation Imperative (Facebook)

PHOTOGRAPHIC SAFARI COMPANY’S SUPPORT OF THE LIFTING OF THE BAN OF SAFARI HUNTING IN BOTSWANA.

Why is it that the photographic safari companies in Botswana have not come out in support of the president’s plan to lift the (irresponsible) ban on safari hunting in the country?

Could it be that they are waiting for the country’s elections later in the year to see which way the wind blows?

Are they afraid it will hurt their bottom-line if they are seen to be supporting safari hunting in this social media-centric world in which we live?

Are they rallying around the likes of Dereck Joubert and his silly little crusade against the so-called “blood laws”?

Whatever the reasons, it is refreshing to see at least one photographic safari company come out in support of the president. Please see Bush Way Safaris letter to their clients below, it is well worth the read.

Dear valued partner,

We are sure by now you would all have heard the announcement that Botswana has lifted the hunting ban and that hunting will resume in the not too distant future. As we know this is an extremely sensitive topic, we felt it important that we as the owners of Bush Ways Safaris express our views on this matter.

Firstly, we would like to make it 100% clear that Bush Ways Safaris has and always will be purely a photographic safari business.

In our personal capacities none of us can ever imagine shooting an animal for trophy purposes and we understand the negative sentiments that this sort of activity will have among most wildlife enthusiasts.

However, as people who have been lucky enough to live and grow up in the incredible wilderness environments of Botswana, one of our driving ambitions has always been the sustainability and conservation of the wildlife and the habitats that support them.

Possibly the single greatest reason for the incredible growth in elephant populations and generally extremely healthy populations of wildlife is the fact that so much of the country remains unfenced, and is protected for wildlife.

But this very basis for the success is also the basis for some of the major wildlife conservation issues Botswana is currently facing.

Much of the vast wilderness areas are not suitable for photographic safaris, yet they are critical in sustaining the integrity of this ecosystem and therefore need to be protected and managed.

Up until 2013 the hunting industry were the custodians for great portions of these areas and were responsible for their management by providing resources (water) and protection. Since the banning of hunting in 2013 these areas have mostly been abandoned with pretty clear results.

Firstly, due to the lack of physical presence on the ground, there has been a marked increase in poaching in these areas. Despite the fact that we live in stable country, committed to conservation, Botswana just does not have the resources to manage and protect such vast and difficult terrain on its own.

Secondly, as the resources supplied (water) have disappeared it has forced many animals to find this water elsewhere. The biggest impact of this is seen in rural communities where elephant numbers have grown drastically over the last 5 years as they come into the communities in search of food and water.

Besides the massive destruction these animals cause to these subsistence farmers, they also pose a very real and immediate threat to their safety and well-being.

The end result of this conflict has been a great increase in resentment towards the wildlife which is threatening both their lives and livelihood. It has also seen an increase in poaching as communities are forced to seek alternative measures to sustain themselves.

So while Botswana has seen a tremendous growth in tourism numbers over the last 10 years, it clearly is not the complete solution to the conservation of these wilderness areas.

The Botswana Government has an obligation to ensure the best livelihood for its people as well as being the custodians of some of the greatest wildlife populations remaining in Africa and the world. Currently they believe that the only way possible to get this balance right is through a multifaceted approach to wildlife utilization which includes both photographic and hunting safaris.

The reality is that if we are unable to find a balance between the benefits of living amongst wildlife versus the losses incurred, then the future of our wildlife will surely follow that of all the wildlife that used to occur in the developed world.

As conservationists, we recognize that right now photographic tourism alone does not generate enough to create this balance and therefore we understand why the Government has made this decision.

As occurred before the ban, hunting will allow for the protection of greater areas of land, provide water in remote areas thus “holding” wildlife away from community farming areas, as well as critical income for these remote communities. That being said, this is even a greater reason for us to work harder to continue to grow and expand the tourism product in Botswana.

As you are all aware, Bush Ways Safaris has always been a leader in developing products that explore areas away from the core “wildlife” destinations as well as products directly within the community areas.

We firmly believe that the future protection of our wildlife lies in the greater economic involvement and benefit of the communities from tourism development.

If we as a country continue to strengthen our conservation policies, be innovative in our approach, we can hopefully one day be in a position where photographic tourism will be large enough to support and sustain all those living in and around the wildlife areas and by so doing the need for hunting may eventually fall away.

But realistically that time is not right now and we need to be understanding of the difficult decisions the government has to make to ensure the most balanced approach to the well-being of the citizens of Botswana and rich wildlife populations that all call Botswana home.

Sincerely,

Marc, Heiko and Mark

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