BY EMMANUEL KORORO
Africa’s hunting culture, including that of Botswana, will never die, no matter how much Western animal rights groups try to influence African leaders to ban it.
For a country that missed hunting like the deserts miss the rain over a six-year period, Botswana bounces back on the international hunting map in April 2021; to quench the international hunters’ thirst in a country with the biggest, stablest and increasing elephant population on earth.
The hunting season opens on Tuesday April 6 and closes on Tuesday September 21, 2021.
“Botswana has enjoyed the interest and support of an international client base for many years. As a destination, Botswana still offers a wide variety of hunting habitats including the great Kalahari sand veld areas; professional operations along with a high calibre of professional hunters, ensures that trophy quality has been consistently high, especially for elephant,” said the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association (BWPA) spokesperson, Debbie Peake, in an interview this month.
“I support President Masisi on the notion that hunting must come back as we have heard him say that on the local television station and in different media,” said a resident of Parakarungu Village of Chobe District, David Mbanga in an interview at the May 2019 Kasane Elephant Management Summit.
Mbanga said former President Ian Khama’s imposed ban on hunting came as a disappointment because he never consulted the people.
“Even his late father Seretse Khama would have been very disappointed to see that his son is taking away wildlife benefits from the people,” said Mbanga. “President Seretse Khama used to give us buffaloes for meat annually. Now, sadly, his son has failed to follow in his father’s footsteps.”
Mbanga, a farmer, said former President Khama also devalued the elephants, together with other types of wildlife, when he banned hunting. Without hunting benefits, Chobe District villagers, like all else in Botswana did not see the need to conserve elephants because they brought costs without benefits.
As soon as he stepped into the office, President Masisi honoured his promise by lifting the Khama-imposed hunting suspension in May 2021. This historic moment of upholding rural communities’ democratic and constitutionally protected sovereign rights to hunting, sent Botswana rural communities co-existing with wildlife into wild celebrations. It confirmed the reality that African communities’ desire to be granted their democratic and sovereign rights to continue benefiting from their wildlife.
In a show that they are worlds apart from African rural communities, the Western animal rights groups opposed the lifting of the hunting moratorium. They came up with empty and recycled threats to boycott Botswana as a tourist destination. No one was bothered by these repeated threats that have never come true ever since they were started, over 45 years ago.
Sadly, just when Botswana had marketed its hunting trophies and was about to resume hunting in 2020 — the Covid-19 pandemic reared its deadly head and took over from where former President Khama had left, by most unexpectedly restricting hunting for another year. This meant that there was another year to add to the six-year hunting absence in Botswana.
Recounting the costs of the ban to the hunting industry, Peake said that the Ian Khama hunting ban forced more than 90% of Botswana-based hunting operators to quit operations in Botswana.
“Without a hunting quota in community areas and in commercial concessions, many operators were forced to relocate to other African hunting countries such as Tanzania and Zambia,” said Peake. “A smaller number retained low-scale business interests in Botswana but game ranches continued to operate offering quality plains game hunting. The loss of elephant quota, along with other quotas was significant, so the industry is dedicated to building up operations and re-establishing themselves in the marketplace for the future.”
The hunting moratorium inevitably harmed wildlife and habitat conservation, increased human-wildlife conflict that negatively impacted communities that then reacted by embarking on lion revenge killings through poisoning, at an unprecedented scale.
The yester-year benefits from hunting that had helped people see the need to conserve lions and elephants, along with other related wild species, including buffalo and leopard had suddenly disappeared.
“The costs of sharing the land with wildlife include the killing of our loved ones,” said Mbanga. “We have just buried one of them today here in Kasane Town. Elephants have also destroyed our property. In fact, we can no longer grow crops because elephants are always destroying them. Therefore, I support President Masisi’s intention to lift the ban on elephant hunting because hunting can help us thin-out the large elephant herds and also minimise human-wildlife conflict as people begin to receive benefits from elephants.”
“Controlled hunting was suspended in 2014, and having lost another year to Covid-19 constraints, the industry is now ready to put Botswana back on the map,” said the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association last week. “Operators are committed to ensuring that rural communities participate fully in the hunting season and in the tourism sector, through employment opportunities and community management functions, so this is an exciting year for Botswana.”
Peake said that the Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) Programme lost a great deal of impetus during the suspension of hunting.
“We believe CBNRM is critical to our industry and the BWPA is committed to assisting and ensuring that Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) become stakeholders in the industry, rather than just shareholders,” she said. “CBOs are ready to embark in a much more participatory role with hunting operators. The BWPA, with local expert technical assistance, is also working closely with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks on a revised Predator Strategy, along with the Elephant Management Plan, both of which are vital to maintaining conservation management and sustainable utilisation of the resource.”
Before the Khama hunting moratorium, revenue from wildlife was used to employ community game rangers who also prevent timber poaching and needless tree-cutting.
Therefore, these conservation activities demonstrate how hunting revenue can benefit wildlife and habitat conservation, including socio-economic development.
One of Chobe District’s most tangible investments made using wildlife hunting revenue was the construction of the upmarket Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust community lodge — Ngoma Safari Lodge that is run jointly with private sector partners. The four-star Lodge benefits local communities through employment and training local residents in different professional disciplines.
Additionally, the Chobe community benefits from the Lodge lease fees. The Lodge employs 27 people from the community who can now provide for their family needs, unlike before when they were unemployed.
For many years before the former President of Botswana Ian Khama’s sudden suspension of wildlife hunting, including elephant hunting in 2014, most of the money that the Chobe District rural communities earned; came from elephant hunting. The hunting revenue was used to finance the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust (CECT) office and community projects such as the milling project, poverty alleviation projects that include skills development to prepare villagers for employment and purchase of a tractor.
They also built a Parakarungu Village Shop that they currently lease out to a private company. Among other important projects, they run a general dealer shop in Mabele Village and a grinding mill in Parakarungu Village. The CECT has a bank account and its finances are audited by a professional auditing company. The CECT office is run by 31 employees with an approved 2019 annual salary budget of P1.6 million (about US$145 454.00).
It is these pre-Khama hunting suspension benefits that local communities expect to enjoy again, when hunting kicks off in April 2021.
“We’re planning to ensure that when hunting begins, we should come up with a negotiated increase of Chobe District communities’ share from hunting revenue because everything has gone up since the ban on hunting in 2014,” said a farmer from Kachikau Village, Mr Richard Tshekonyane. “Our development wish-list should include the need to build a butchery and bakery in each village as well as engage in any other projects that benefit our people.”
Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist who writes independently on environment and development issues in Africa.