Residents of North West district who co-exist with wildlife, including elephants have come out in defence of state president, Mokgweetsi Masisi’s decision to lift the 2014 hunting ban
Despite outrage expressed by some international bodies against the move, Batswana have welcomed the development, which they say will set their lives back on track.
“Communities that live in the delta, including in villages such as Seronga, Mababe, Khwai and many other settlements, are being killed by elephants. These giants have killed 36 people in Botswana in the past two years. The animals have now moved closer to Maun. They are moving nearer to the people because they are looking for food and in the process are destroying people’s property including crops and fences,” explained Mark Kyriacou, a retired hunter, photographer and safari guide.
Although based in Maun, Kyriacou has lived in the bush and among communities in the delta for years and has first hand experience regarding the human-elephant conflict in such areas.
His view is that, since the elephant population in the country is very high, (close to 200 000), they need to be hunted as a controlling measure; “Many of the elephants in Botswana are refugees from neighbouring countries. They came to Botswana because they were poached in large numbers in other countries in the region, but if the communities do not get benefit from the animals they will also be poached here. Hunting has always been a controlling measure for animal population and has worked for many years,” he said.
The hunting ban was imposed by the country’s former administration under Ian Khama Seretse Khama’s leadership in 2014.
Just recently, a sub committee appointed by President Masisi recommended among others, that it be lifted.
This followed a consultative process. The report is yet to be passed through parliament.
However some international groups have criticized the move and Dereck Jourbert owner of Great Plains Concession has gone further to specifically label it, “Botswana’s blood law.”
“Dereck Joubert has made millions of Pula through Botswana tourism. His comments against Masisi are informed by self-interests. He does not care about the people’s welfare, all he is guarding is his photographic opportunities and tourism interests and that is not right,” stated Kyriacou.
In a report endorsed by 25 conservative scientists, wildlife managers, community based conservative support organizations and resource economists from Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States of America, Zambia and Zimbabwe, a human-wildlife conflict specialist, Potgieter wrote in support of the lift of hunting ban of elephants in Botswana.
Potgieter indicated that Although no one has found the ultimate solution, the department of Wildlife and National Parks used to have sound policies and management strategies for reducing problems with elephants, yet these were overturned by the Khama administration.
“Research focused non- governmental organisations such as Ecoexist, Elephants for Africa and Elephants without borders, have been trying to find out the solutions. But for nearly two years, neither they nor any other organization, e.g. those working on human-lion conflict, have been able to obtain permits for new research. The opportunities to develop innovative ideas were thus effectively blocked by the Khama administration,” the report states in part.
Potgieter maintains that many people know about the hunting ban, but few have heard about the research ban, which was implemented in a much similar way.
“This year Masisi lifted the research permit ban-so there is hope of finding new solutions to these problems,” she pointed and continued to add that President Masisi consulted with his people by setting up the task team specifically for social dialogue.
“The broad community consultation process was actioned at the request of Parliament, in recognition of calls by citizens and local scientists to re-think the hunting ban. This may not seem revolutionary to outsiders, as this is surely what presidents of democratic governments should do. But for the citizens of Botswana, this simple act of consultation was seemingly both a breath of fresh air and a blast from the past. The spirit of democracy and consultation is what made Botswana a successful nation, and some say that this was surely missed during Khama’s reign,”Potgieter further states.
Outgoing member of Parliament for Maun West, chief Tawana Moremi, who said the hunting ban which was never ratified by Parliament in the first place had caused a lot of suffering for the people in his region and has to be lifted.
“Consultation with stakeholders has taken its course, the people have spoken and there is nothing anyone can add. People have endured the suffering, but the lift of the hunting ban will bring their lives back to normalcy, they will be able to defend their property. Those who are talking about blood-shed of elephants are being irrelevant,” Tawana quipped.
The chief’s contention was that involving communities in conservation can work for Botswana as much as it has worked for other African countries and that in fact it was working until the former administration blocked it.