Controversy grows over elephant trophy hunting

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In April, at the opening of Botswana’s controversial six-month trophy hunting season, two bulls of large-tusked African savannah elephants were killed. The two massive bulls, killed in northern Botswana, had tusks that weighed more than 100 pounds (48 kg) and 90 pounds (40 kg) each respectively, placing them among the largest elephants in Africa.

While some local Batswana communities who directly benefit from these hunts celebrated the killings, not everyone was impressed.

Anger and condemnation

“It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, killer in the country,” former Botswana President Ian Khama lamented when the first bull was killed. “An elephant that tour operators have constantly tried to show tourists as an iconic attraction. Now he is dead. How does his death benefit our declining tourism due to bad policies? Our tourism is based on the wildlife. jobs and no source of income.”

During his tenure, Khama had imposed a ban on trophy hunting, but current President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted it upon his inauguration in 2019.

“Incompetence and lack of leadership nearly wiped out the rhino population, and now this!” fumes the former leader who has always openly criticized his successor.

Audrey Delsink, African Wildlife Director of Humane Society International, stepped in to condemn the hunts.

“It is incomprehensible that two of Africa’s last great killers were shot as trophies for pay,” Delsink said in a statement. “Nothing can replace the intrinsic value these extraordinary and majestic beings have brought to elephant society, genetics and natural history.

“Make no mistake,” Delsink continued, “these once-living icons were mowed down in the prime of life, for entry into the record books. These deaths are not just a travesty on a biological scale, but an indication that humanity’s moral compass is in serious need of realignment.”

Wildlife Corridor Becomes ‘Fear Zone’

Other conservationists are also furious that the hunts took place in the Botswana part of the Kavango Zambezi Five Nations Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), a large area specifically created to protect wildlife migration corridors. .

The initiative aims to create one of the most important wildlife refuges in Africa. It is the largest transboundary conservation area in the world, spanning approximately 520,000 km2 (larger than Germany and Austria combined) and covers the Okavango and Zambezi river basins, where they meet the borders of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It comprises 36 national parks, game reserves, community reserves and game management areas, including Chobe National Park, Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls National Park.

Simon Espley, managing director of African Geographic, a leading conservation publication, pointed out that this practice of hunting in wildlife migration corridors does not help efforts to reduce human conflict. and wildlife.

Human-elephant conflicts occur in areas where humans and wildlife compete for land and water, resulting in the loss of many human lives and rural livelihoods.

“The 100-pounder hunt took place in NG13 in the elephant flyway which KAZA hopes will help reduce human-elephant conflict,” Espley pointed out. migration corridors remain free of obstacles and fear zones – so that elephants can once again move freely between KAZA countries and put less pressure on the people and ecosystems of Botswana.

“The location of this hunt makes NG13 a ‘scare zone’ for elephants,” Espley added, “which makes this particular hunt detrimental to Botswana’s wish to reduce human-elephant conflict and improve thus the life of his people”.

Critics of trophy hunting say hunters primarily target the largest, most imposing and oldest elephants – a practice highly detrimental to their population as they are the ones who provide critically important ecological and social knowledge. which are essential to the survival of the whole group.

This anti-hunting lobby claims that the two tuskers killed in Botswana were part of the continent’s last elite group, which numbers just 40 people.

Espley added that human-elephant conflicts or habitat issues persist even after the last large-tusked elephants in Africa have been surgically removed by trophy hunters in the name of conservation.

“The volume of hunted elephants is not sufficient to reduce elephant populations. Instead, the likely result of selecting large-tusked elephants as trophies will be to hasten the disappearance of tusks from the African landscape .”

Strongly defended trophy hunting

However, local Batswana community leaders say the criticism of the hunts is baseless.

Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust (CECT) Vice President Nchunga Nchunga said the hunting was not done haphazardly or indiscriminately, as critics would have the world believe.

“The trophy hunt itself, the way we conduct it here – it’s a means of conservation,” Nchunga told FairPlanet. “The government is not only issuing quotas without animal censuses to determine which species should be reduced, but also looking at communities living in areas near national parks and game reserves that come into human conflict. and wildlife.”

In Botswana, the hunting season extends throughout the dry (brown) season from April to September, and Nchunga said the benefits of these hunts to communities are immense.

“Communities benefit a lot from this trophy hunting. It generates income which helps in the development of the villages as the money generated here is reinvested in the community,” he said. “There is an awareness within the community that these animals, if they learn to live with them despite the problems they cause, they can still benefit.”

He added that his community had earned more than 10 million Botswana Pula ($834,000) from trophy hunting fees since the hunting ban was lifted in 2019, saying the money had been used to fund various projects through village development committees.

“The Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust’s 2019-2020 hunting quota, which was moved to 2021 due to COVID-19, gave us 5.6 million Pula ($470,000) sold at auction. The 2022 hunting quota gave us 4.6 million Pula ($380,000) and it was open bidding.”

Nchunga said claims that the hunt is causing irreparable damage to tourism are false, as his community has no problems with consumption and non-consumptive tourism.

“Consumer tourism [hunting] and non-consumer tourism [photography] go hand in hand with the benefit of the community. As you can see, we have two lodges in the Chobe enclave, which offer photography. It’s so well done that there’s no conflict between the two.”

Chief Rebecca Banika of the Paleka community, located in the same elephant-rich Chobe district, has also championed trophy hunting as a conservation method.

She said that since the ban was lifted, the three villages that make up the Paleka Community Trust – Pandamatenga, Lesoma and Kazungula – had received at least 13.2 million Pula ($1.1 million) from their quotas of hunt.

“My community also benefits from the carcasses of animals killed […] with escalating prices for food and other basics, at least they have free meat,” the Chieftainess told FairPlanet.

“My community also gets jobs as they are directly hired as escort guides, trackers, etc. With this money and the help of other development partners, some young people have been sponsored for studies in various institutions and university programs,” she added. “So I beg those who are against trophy hunting to listen to our plea, we know better how to conserve our animals.”

Image by David Clode.

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