Southern Times

Gaborone fires fresh salvos at animal activists over elephant auction


Mpho Tebele


Gaborone – Botswana has fired fresh salvos at international animal activists who have criticized the Southern African nation over its decision to auction off at least more than 60 elephants recently.

In a communique, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, giving a background to the lifting of a 2014 hunting ban, stated that on 23 May 2019, it announced the lifting of the hunting moratorium following an extensive nationwide, democratic consultative process.

The ministry said a Presidential Sub-Committee of Cabinet on Hunting Ban and Social Dialogue made numerous findings and a formal presentation of the findings which were made to Parliament.

Among the sub-committee’s findings were an appreciation by citizens that they were being consulted, which many argued they were not consulted in the decision to implement the hunting moratorium, the decision to implement the hunting moratorium was not scientifically based and there was an increasing level of human-elephant conflict and significant impact on community livelihoods.

The ministry reiterated Botswana’s sovereign decision to lift the hunting moratorium.

“The decision was not made haphazardly and was based on a democratic and extensive consultative process of affected communities and relevant stakeholders including NGOs, conservationists, scientists and leaders of neighbouring countries,” the ministry said.

It said the decision to lift the hunting moratorium was made in the best interest of aiding rural community livelihoods, stemming the rise of human-elephant conflict and incentivizing local communities to support sustainable-use conservation and tourism.

The lifting of the hunting moratorium will revive numerous community-based organisations (CBOs) that became financially defunct following the moratorium as a result of the unviability of their marginal lands for non-consumptive purposes. Botswana believes that the announcement of reintroducing hunting was met with great appreciation among the rural communities and welcomed by affected CBOs as it supports the concept of an inclusive conservation and tourism sector.

Botswana also believes that controlled hunting is in accordance with numerous national government objectives. Pillar three of the Botswana Vision 2036 calls for a “sustainable environment” promoting the sustainable and optimal use of natural resources to transform the economy and uplift the livelihoods of citizens.

“Following the implementation of the hunting moratorium, it became abundantly clear that non-consumptive practices on marginal lands did not contribute towards the economic development of Botswana nor did it contribute to the improvement of Batswana livelihoods,” the communique states.

Furthermore, the Botswana Wildlife Policy of 2013 specifically recognises the importance of sustainable utilisation for Botswana’s conservation strategy.

“That is why the hunting moratorium was a temporary measure, renewed on an annual basis, rather than permanent. Lastly, it is an established strategic goal of the ministry to derive value from the environment. The hunting moratorium’s embrace of non-consumptive practices led to significant revenue being lost to communities, a sense of disenfranchisement, and traditional rural peoples concern for wildlife transformed into resentment and therefore deterred from conservation efforts,” the communique states.

The ministry noted that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks has received letters by anti-hunting non-government organisations and photo tourism operators claiming the qualifying criteria for the special elephant quota auction and tenders are exclusive and inappropriate.

“All such claims are clearly promoting a special interest agenda not in the best interest of community livelihoods and wildlife conservation. A restrictive qualifying criterion protects the sector from those seeking to undermine and disrupt the controlled hunting programme,” the Ministry says.

Moreover, Botswana argues, a restrictive qualifying criterion promotes the greatest benefits being generated to communities on marginal lands.

“Those promoting these mistaken claims are reminded they had the opportunity to acquire the rights to these areas following the implementation of the hunting moratorium; however, they did not take advantage of the opportunity at that time,” the ministry said.

The ministry  reminded all interested parties, including those who have persisted in telling falsehoods about Botswana’s conservation and hunting programme that the decision to lift the hunting moratorium was the sovereign right and decision of Botswana and that this was based on a democratic, consultative and nationwide process of affected stakeholders and that the controlled hunting programme will generate significant conservation benefits and support to community livelihoods that have been devoid since the implementation of the hunting moratorium.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks said it was presently undergoing all the necessary steps to roll out the controlled hunting programme for 2020 to ensure it is in accordance with the recommendations set forth in the 23 May 2019 announcement.

Recently Botswana came under heavy criticism again after conservationists accused it of auctioning off 60 elephants without involvement of communities wildlife conservation organisations.