Hunting in Botswana

29. December 2019

On December 15 of 2020 BBC news reported that Botswana cancelled 2 hunting licenses for killing a collared, and therefore protected elephant.

The so-called professional hunters who killed the research elephant were either trophy hunters or got so carried away by having an elephant in their cross hair that it severely clouded their professionalism. If they were indeed professionals, licensed by the Botswana government to kill elephants for the dubious objective of reducing elephant numbers in an effort to reign in human/elephant conflict, the government succeeded in proving that big game hunting of any kind results in innocent animals being slaughtered.

Radio collared elephant in Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo credit: Sam DCruz / shutterstock

Apparently, Michael Lee Potter and Kevin Sharp voluntarily turned in their hunting licenses. Potter’s license has been revoked indefinitely, while Sharp’s license has been suspended for 3 years.

Nationality of the hunters, and perhaps more importantly, the type of licenses granted to them would have been useful information to evaluate what really happened. The excuse of these “professionals,” that they did not see the extremely large elephant collar gives credence to an earlier Reuters report that these two men deliberately destroyed the collar in an attempt to hide evidence against them.

The hunting ban and protection of elephants by the military initiated by the country’s previous president Ian Khama in 2014 has given the country the most successful conservation record in Africa. In May of this year the current president of the country, Mokgweetsi Masisi, not only had the hunting ban lifted but also reduced elephant military protection against illegal poaching. Government officials claim that the previous policies of elephant protection in Botswana resulted in substantial growth of elephant numbers causing more elephant/human conflicts.

Elephant in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Photo credit: Junelle Lugge / shutterstock

In reality, the number of Botswana elephants estimated to be around 130,000 has not increased since 2014, but the local human population has grown dramatically, encroaching, often illegally, on elephant territory. Tragically, competition for habitat and food has indeed resulted in more human/elephant conflict.

With poaching already increasing, culling being re-introduced and trophy hunting allowed, the government has indirectly approved human population growth unsustainable with the current Botswana elephant population. Unfortunately this approach will ultimately result in unsustainable human population levels without elephants, destroying Botswana’s lucrative tourist revenues.

A better approach would be to define and protect definitive areas for sustainable wildlife and humans, controlling elephant population growth by available birth control methods.  An essential part of such a program would be to educate the local farmers to appreciate the value of African wildlife as part of their heritage, while guaranteeing their fair share of tourist revenues.