Botswana recently lifted its ban on elephant hunting, citing growing elephant/human conflict as the primary driving force behind this unpopular decision. The ban, put in place in 2014 by former president and avid conservationist Ian Khama, was overturned by the current president, Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, following recommendations from a committee who investigated the elephant situation in Botswana.

The move to lift the ban on elephant hunting in Botswana has proved to be a tremendously unpopular one, drawing quick and harsh criticism and condemnation from conservation groups all over the world, and causing a storm of scathing comments on various social media platforms, with some going so far as suggesting that international tourists boycott Botswana until the ban is reinstated.

wwf elephants in botswana - close up of 3 elephants standing together in a river

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According to Dr Paula Kahumbu  #ElephantExpert, CEO #WildlifeDirect, Ecologist, wildlife TV Producer host of  #NatGeo Explorer and activist based in Kenya “The whole world is turning away from hunting. It is increasingly seen as an archaic practice. This is very, very damaging to the image of Botswana as a global leader in elephant conservation.”

Masisi must surely have anticipated such a backlash, though – so why did he proceed with lifting the ban? The reality is that the complex relationship between local communities and large wild animals in Botswana is not a unique one, and the main reason given for overturning the ban on elephant hunting – human/elephant conflict – affects a number of indigenous communities throughout Southern Africa, whose crops are frequently destroyed by elephants, and whose family members are occasionally killed by the massive pachyderms. For example, according to Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo, around 200 people in Zimbabwe have been killed by elephants in the last five years.

That said, is overturning the ban on elephant hunting really the best solution to this tremendously difficult problem? While proponents for hunting are quick to lay the blame for crop destruction and loss of human life squarely at the feet of elephants and other large wild animals, and suggest that killing these magnificent creatures is the only way to ensure the safety of human lives, there are gentler and less bloody solutions.

While Botswana’s elephant population has increased in recent years – it now stands at anywhere between 130,000 and 160,000, which makes Botswana the country with the largest elephant population in Africa  it is important to remember that elephant numbers are still but a tiny fraction of what they used to be in past centuries.

Although Botswana is taking the brunt of the condemnation – it is not alone. According to  many of Botswana’s elephants roam across borders into Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. All four countries have called for a global ban on the elephant ivory trade to be relaxed due to the growing number of the animals in some regions.

Elephant Human Conflict - Elephant climbing over fence

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Five hundred years ago, there were around 26 million elephants on the African continent – and that number dropped to a mere 600,000 by 1989, when the population had been halved from 1.3 million in a mere ten years of legalised international ivory trade. It seems, from past experiments, that legalising and regulating the trade in ivory does little to help elephants.

Overly simplistic solutions like killing off wild animals who are regarded as “problem animals” when it comes to human expansion into former areas of virgin wilderness ignore a far greater issue, one that is already wreaking havoc on the natural environment the world over: the rapid growth of the human population; in Africa, the human population has almost trebled since 1980, jumping from 477 million to 1.2 billion today.

At Alexandra’s Africa, we believe not only in supporting the game reserves who do their utmost to preserve the African wilderness and the integrity of its magnificent biodiversity, we also believe in directly supporting the communities whose homes border these reserves. If these communities prosper, and come to understand that big animals like elephants mean economic prosperity for them, through tourism, then a great deal of human/elephant conflict can be reduced, and then there’s no need to even think of “solutions” that are as violent and short-sighted as simply shooting these creatures.

This is a challenging problem and there are conservation experts in southern Africa seeking alternative solutions by empowering local communities.

If you would like to know more about this or our wide range of #AlexandrasAfrica Safaris in southern Africa, where you will see plenty of these magnificent animals, please click here to contact us.

More on this theme in our blog next week!

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