Botswana has lifted their ban on elephant hunting, facing international backlash. The country’s former President Ian Khama, who instated the ban five years ago, says that ending the ban won’t solve any of the country’s problems.
Because in Botswana, elephants can be a real problem, according to residents. Elephants raid farms and ruin crops, and young bulls attack and maul people, particularly in rural areas, where the animals are not popular.
“In the old days we used to hunt them and shoot them. To get rid of them, we need to shoot all of the elephants,” said village leader Kenneth Moboya, in an interview with CNN. Moboya himself was attacked by an elephant that he shot several times while protecting a local farm.
Khama and others don’t believe that culling the elephant population will have any effect. “Resorting to killing is a blood policy that should not be supported,” said Khama. “This will not have an impact on human animal incidents. It is a political move.”
Botswana has a large stockpile of government-owned ivory. Lifting the ban on ivory sales could mean lots of money for administrators in addition to hunters.
The monetary damage caused by elephants is also relatively small. Records indicate that over the past nine years 36 people have been killed by elephants, costing about $2 million in compensatory damages.
“Compare how many people are killed by elephants to how many are killed in drunk driving incidents,” said Khama.
This is despite having the largest elephant population on the continent, with about 130,000 animals in what some conservationists consider the last “elephant sanctuary.”
Calling it a true elephant sanctuary could be a stretch: poachers have targeted Botswana’s elephant population for its sheer size, and according to the Elephants Without Borders project, poaching is up, in some cases five-fold.
“We call this the elephant heartland,” said Elephants Without Borders founder Mike Chase. “It is the last sanctuary for elephants in Africa. What we thought was a sanctuary is no longer, of course, because poachers have discovered this is an area where big bulls congregate.”
If the government begins the sale of its ivory stock, poachers could further use the new market as a cover for their black market goods. Still, others argue that a controlled ivory market with legal elephant hunting is ultimately safer than a complete ban which, many argue, guarantees a black market.
Despite the controversy, Botswanan leaders are pushing forward with the new policy to allow elephant hunting. Revenues from hunting and a legitimate ivory trade could ultimately be what pays to support such a large elephant population.
“The whole world right now is trying to close those ivory markets and the question is, are we sitting on a ticking time-bomb,” asked Botswana’s environment and tourism minister Kitso Mokaila. “Because when people eventually say we are sick and tired of being zookeepers, when there is no return in investment and they go randomly out there and massacre them, that is the real problem.”
“They are not where we are and therefore don’t live our experience,” continued Mokaila. “And it always OK to be a critic from the comfort of your home or the comfort of your environment … not understanding what our issues are.”