Botswana lifted its ban on hunting elephants last month – this argument is more contentious even amongst conservationists than you would think

Botswana house around 135,000 of the 350,000 remaining elephants in Africa. In the past they have made a small but significant amount of money from these elephants by hunting, but a few years ago the president of Botswana stated that if they stopped hunting elephants and concentrated on photographic safaris they could make more money from their wildlife.

There are significant numbers of people who will avoid areas where the animals are culled or hunted, which means that you can miss out on money from wealthy foreigners and this can often add up to more money than the one wealthy foreign are paid to kill the Elephant.

However a new President comes with the new mindset.

In Botswana the national parks are not fenced so the animals are free to roam. While generally it is impossible to keep elephants in an area if they do not wish to be, in many countries such as South Africa fencing allows large national parks that also large areas where there are no elephants. Indeed in South Africa there are relatively few animals that roam most of the country – various small antelopes, snakes and many types of lizards, as well as leopards roaming the majority of South Africa and oddly hippopotamus are not restricted to protected areas. However South Africa being a richer country with less wilderness left are able to keep elephants within the wild areas.

In Botswana, the basic idea is that by reducing the number of elephants a little bit the remaining elephants will fit more happily into the national parks that been set aside for their wellbeing, leading to a reduction in clashes between humans and elephants. Having wealthy foreigners kill problem elephants rather than having it done by well-trained hunters in Botswana does not only save money but gives a greater income.

The problem is that elephants are highly intelligent animals that can communicate over large distances. This means that killing just a small number in one part of the country, and within days elephants tens or even hundreds of miles away are reacting angrily with aggression towards humans. The problem is that this is not compatible with photographic Safari, as people want to be able to get close to the animals to get their pictures and will not be prepared to pay as much for a picture of an elephant 200m away.

After my wife and I got married we spent three months living on the edge of the Kruger National Park, and while we were living there we had a debate on whether the elephant population should be culled regularly to keep its numbers level. This is because within the Kruger National Park there were at the time more than three times as many elephants as they had been when the fences had been erected. However this was after a period of extreme hunting and as such we do not have scientific evidence as to what the natural population of elephants were. More elephants mean less dense bush and trees – obviously impacting populations of animals that like trees such as monkeys and primates and antelope such as bushbuck that like dense areas to hide in.

However Botswana has more wilderness than South Africa and has had fewer issues with poaching in the past which means that they have more elephants to deal with. Unfortunately this is a complex issue and it is unlikely to be handled effectively when the decision is putting the hands of a president who needs reelecting rather than in the hands of the park authorities who can appoint scientists to look at all the little effects that the hunting or culling might have.

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