Botswana Pursuing ‘Photographic Tourism’

Banner Image – “Game viewing in the Selinda Reserve, Botswana is outstanding right now…” Image courtesy of Beverly and Dereck Joubert, Great Plains Conservation

There has been recent reports of Botswana being pressured by pro-hunting lobbies from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and lobbyists from the European Union seeking to persuade Botswana to relax its 2014 hunting ban; these lobbyists are seeking reinstatement of hunting to allow exploitation of the abundance of wildlife migrating to the relative safe haven offered within Botswana.

Petition – “DEMAND THE EU TO STOP PRESSURE ON THE LAST REMAINING SAFE HAVEN FOR WILDLIFE BOTSWANA TO LIFT TROPHY HUNTING BAN

Addressing a press conference in the northern city of Maun (week of 14 November 2016), Tshekedi Khama, Botswana’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment said unlike its regional peers, Botswana remained ‘resolute’ in opposing trophy hunting and captive breeding as well as calling for an end to the ivory trade. (Note: The 2014 total ban on hunting in Botswana included both trophy and subsistence hunting).

In a statement (“Review of hunting ban on-going,“ Daily News, 23 November 2016) Khama informed Parliament on Monday, 21 November 2016 that Botswana’s hunting ban is reviewed annually in accordance with Section 45 of the Wildlife Conservation and Natural Parks of 1992:

Accordingly, my ministry through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) has commenced a review process on the status of the ban by undertaking aerial survey counts on wild animals. The surveys started in 2015, but did not cover the entire country mainly due to limited resources,” Khama said, with surveys continuing until adequate and accurate figures covering both dry and the wet seasons for 2017 are available.

So, within Botswana, hunting is unlikely to resurface (it at all) until the DWNP has completed its surveys.

National Geographic reports (“Elephant refugees flee to last strong-hold in Africa,” 23 November 2016), that Chobe National Park in Botswana is struggling to support the staggering number of animals fleeing from rampant poaching and hunting activity in other countries (Chobe neighbours Namibia, Zambia, and Angola). The park is home to the greatest elephant herd in the world and the jewel in the crown of the sprawling, five-country Kavanga-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA).

In his November 2016 speech, Khama accused neighbours Zambia and Zimbabwe of “failing to fulfill their obligations in the development of the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-Frontier Park (KAZA),” which is a regional initiative that is meant to promote the free cross-border movement and conservation of wildlife. Khama attributed the influx of elephants from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Angola to a failure by those countries to provide basic water and security infrastructure for the animals:

We have some partners, like Zambia and Zimbabwe, who fail to pay their subscriptions and putting up requisite infrastructure for essential services, such as water, in the KAZA. That results in many elephants crossing into Botswana because we have those provisions. Our neighbours need to drill boreholes and provide water to stop their animals from coming to Botswana,” Khama said.

According to the Continent-wide survey reveals massive decline in African savannah elephant – “The Great Elephant Census,” (Chase et. al., August 2016), African elephant populations across the referenced African range states can be summarised as follows:

Angola has about 3,395 African elephants.

Botswana is home to 37% of the African elephant population, at an estimated 130,4512 elephants. Despite the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) CoP17 decision, Botswana lobbied for ‘uplisting’ of all African elephant populations to CITES Appendix I, but this was denied at CoP17; regardless Botswana has promised to treat its elephant population as if it is CITES Appendix I listed (ie. ignoring the enduring Appendix I exemption Botswana is permitted);

Namibia declined to participate in the “Great Elephant Census.” In a report to CITES, Namibia claimed its elephant population was 22,711, of which 13,136 live in the northeast of the country. But this has not been independently verified. At CITES CoP17, Namibia threatened to enter a “reservation” to a proposal to withdraw its elephant population exemption from Appendix I annotation, saying it would simply resume ivory sales outside the CITES legal regime. The CITES convention allow any country to file a “reservation” saying it will not be bound by a particular provision in the treaty. Many consider this a serious shortcoming, likening threats such as Namibia’s  warning to “blackmail”  –  Mid-century Nuclear Weapons Tests Can Help Fight Elephant Poaching,” National Geographic, 5 October 2016.

Zambia has an estimated African elephant population of 21,759, with poaching and trophy hunting within country. In September 2015, the European Union’s Scientific Review Group (SRG)  reversed a previous “negative” opinion for elephant trophy imports from Zambia. The trade in Zambian elephants are subject to careful monitoring by the EU’s Wildlife Trade Regulations (WTR) and any commercial trade must show ‘conservation’ benefits to the species. Furthermore the Zambian elephants are CITES Appendix I listed and so any trade subject to international CITES community regulation.

Zimbabwe has an estimated African elephant population of 82,304 with poaching and trophy hunting evident. The stated community benefits programme (CAMPFIRE), that is supposed to distribute hunting income down to community level is often cited as a benefit of hunting in Zimbabwe. However, CAMPFIRE claims are regularly discredited – “rural councils get “nothing.” In most cases…  corrupt government officials take the money.” Zimbabwe threatened to withdraw from CITES if its wish to be free to trade ivory was not granted by the international community. Zimbabwe’s ‘plea’ has been somewhat embarrassingly tarnished by its own flawed economic argument in support. Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister, Oppah Muchinguri stated in parliament (30 July 2016) that Zimbabwe’s ivory stock-piles were worth some “$9.6bn USD,” when in reality its ivory stockpile’s value is more like $96m USD. Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister, Oppah Muchinguri has since (16 November 2016) threatened to sell its ivory stockpile to China using similar flawed thinking and a proposal to exploit an inapplicable CITES’ “reservation” loop-hole.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) reportedly allowed hunters to export the following elephant tusks in 2015:

  • Namibia: 180 tusks
  • Zambia: 160 tusks
  • Zimbabwe: 1,000 tusks (from 2003 to 2013, trophy hunters exported more than 28 tons of tusks from Zimbabwe)

african-elephant-population-deline_fig-2-full

“Over 350,000 elephants still roam Africa’s savannahs, but with populations plunging in many areas, action is needed to reverse ongoing declines” – “Great Elephant Census

Elephants without Borders (a not-for-profit conservation charity) reported in August 2016, that 26 elephants had been killed by poachers (the elephants’ faces hacked off and their tusks removed), on Botswana’s Chobe National Park floodplain. So, Chobe/Botswana is not immune from poaching, with the concern that the elephant slaughter occurred in a park protected by the Botswana Defence Force, “one of the most efficient anti-poaching operations on the continent.“

Great Plains Foundation (Rhinos without borders) have relocated about 100 rhino from South Africa to safe havens within Botswana in an anti-poaching drive. However, on 24 November 2016 (“Mystery Okavango rhino poaching sparks fears,” 24 November 2016) it has been reported that “a rhino was shot dead in the Delta, but not dehorned in an incident that has raised concerns that syndicates may now be targeting the ecologically safe haven.” Acting director of operations in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Moemi Batshabang said “rhino poaching in the Okavango Delta was under control.

So whist wildlife remains a tradable commodity, no matter how much effort is made to secure wildlife safe havens, the ruthless animal utilisation mentality follows it would seem. Let’s hope these poaching incidents remain rare (and any surge in such activity is quickly quashed), plus the lobbyists calls for restoration of trophy hunting quotas also goes unheeded in the face of a ‘better way’ for all to enjoy Botswana’s wildlife.

Zimbabwe vs. Botswana 

An interesting comparison can be made between Zimbabwe and Botswana (“A tale of two countries: Zimbabwe and Botswana, neighbours with opposing attitudes toward-wildlife,” A Voice for Wildlife, National Geographic, 8 November 2016).

It has recently been reported ( “The great emptiness is upon us,” Oxpeckers, 7 November 2016) – Zimbabwe is ’empty’ of leopard and lions are still being baited out of the relative safety of Hwange National Park to be shot by trophy hunters:

“…..the wild lions of the Lower Dete Valley have also been wiped out, and hunting outfits now rely on baiting lions out of Hwange to satisfy their clients. “The illegal hunting is much worse than before Cecil’s death” – Anonymous professional hunter quoted in “The great emptiness is upon us.”

wild-cru_cecil-the-lion_-1024x698

Valley of death: sources say the illegal hunting on private reserves around Hwange National Park is much worse than before Cecil was killed. Photo courtesy WildCRU

The ‘feeling’ that Zimbabwe’s  hunting is out of control is further evidenced by a recent open access scientific report in the Plos One journal (“Herbivores, sustainability, and trophy hunting in the Matetsi,” Muposhi et. al, Plos One, 13 October 2016). Zimbabwe certainly has problems with ‘sustainable’ trophy hunting of Cape buffalo, elephant, greater kudu and sable antelope populations of the Matetsi Safari Area in the northwest of the country. Critically, the referenced October 2016 paper (Plos One) concludes that hunting quotas with Zimbabwe are not based on science; Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) is confronted with the dual task of generating revenue, while simultaneously playing “the regulatory role in trophy hunting and wildlife conservation issues in Zimbabwe” – a clear contradiction that does nothing to say conservation of wildlife, or ‘sustainable’ wildlife utilisation is a key driver within ZPWMA.

Does Zimbabwe’s management of trophy hunting sound as if it is benefitting wild leopard, lion, Cape buffalo, elephant, greater kudu and sable antelope population conservation? No, it does not, with perhaps just 200 wild lions left within Zimbabwe, time is running out.

Pro-hunting advocates

Of course, the pro-hunting lobby will cite Zimbabwe’s Bubye Valley Conservancy (B.V.C) as a shining beacon of hunting sustaining ‘conservation.’ B.V.C opened in 1999 and is a privately owned reserve of some 850,000 acres (3,440 km2), breeding a a lion population of about 500 lions bred within the fenced confines of the conservancy . The B.V.C. lion population is monitored for research purposes by Wild Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Oxford University, but B.V.C’s income is partly derived from the trophy hunting of its lion stock. At B.V.C’s lion hunts, there has been a reported 100% kill rate on B.V.C’s own lion hunting quota (“2 – 3%” of the B.V.C lion population) every year – which says the targeted lions have no real chance of evading the paying hunters. So, B.V.C could legitimately be described as a glorified version of the ‘canned’ hunting model it would seem, with B.V.C deriving a claimed “30%” of its income from the lion hunts it sells.

So why is it being reported that hunters are still illegally baiting and luring wild lions from Hwange National Park, if B.V.C. are openly offering lions to execute? It appears that B.V.C.’s lion hunting is certainly not attractive enough for all so-called hunters’ tastes (and lack of concern for real conservation) it would seem.

In February 2016, B.V.C announced that its income stream was insufficient to support its stock of lions, with a reported excess of 200 surplus lions:

I wish we could give about 200 of our lions away to ease the overpopulation. If anyone knows of a suitable habitat for them where they will not land up in human conflict, or in wildlife areas where they will not be beaten up because of existing prides, please let us know and help us raise the money to move them” – Blondie Leathem, general manager of Bubye Valley Conservancy

So under Zimbabwe’s approach to hunting, wild lions are still illegally being killed and will soon empty  reserves unless action is taken, but that seems unlikely when perpetrators of illegal lion hunting go unpunished.

The pro-hunting lobby will also cite Kenya as an example of the ‘bad things’ that will happen when hunting is removed and “the same is bound to happen in Botswana” (sic). In Kenya, elephant hunting was made illegal in 1973, with a complete ban on all hunting (without permits) from 1979.

A BBC news article entitled “Mara wildlife in serious decline” from 2009 states clearly “numbers of giraffe, warthog, impala, and hartebeest fell by 50% or more between 1979 and 2002,” citing evidence from a British Journal of Zoology (“Effects of human–livestock–wildlife interactions on habitat in an eastern Kenya rangeland,” Otuma et. al., 2009). The loss of grazing animals is already having an impact on lions, cheetahs and other predators according to the researchers.

However, the scientists who conducted the 2009 report believe the surge in domestic livestock has been held largely accountable for the drop in Kenya’s wildlife population – The three main causes that have been cited for the drop in wildlife numbers are illegal poaching, larger numbers and ranges of domestic livestock, plus changing land use patterns on the ranches. There is no mention of ‘Trophy Hunting’ cited as a cause/effect for the decline in Kenya’s wildlife since 1979.

Botswana is doing things very differently, with the hope that the on-going Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) wildlife survey will show wildlife populations in good numbers and health (but no call to return to hunting for income, but a clear correlation to income from true conservation tourism).

Conclusion

From where I am looking, the pro-hunters’ claims and prophecy that Botswana is doomed appear premature, biased and overwhelmingly unsubstantiated.

Botswana is a beacon of hope, that general tourist (‘conservation’) income can negate any need to succumb to the fun hunters’ money and the hunters’ desire to kill the wildlife flocking to the relative safety Botswana offers.

Botswana, a haven for wildlife” is converging support behind Botswana’s resolve to see through its hunting ban, that will hopefully endure long into the future.

Beverly and Dereck Joubert (National Geographic’s Explorers) offer the Great Plains Conservation experience, “conservation tourism in action” within Botswana and Kenya. Great Plains Foundation’s mission offers  “the right formula of conservation, communities and commerce that would make a lasting, sustainable difference to the world’s iconic wildlife and wildernesses.

Let’s trust that this laudable mission (and all those like it) can prove increasingly viable and hold dear the wildlife on view, with relative safety from poachers and the added burden of the hunters’ obsessive addiction to “harvesting.

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