Hunting value: Spain's King Juan Carlos was one of Botswana's trophy-hunting customers, bringing large sums of money into the country.

Botswana hunting ban panned

Botswana’s ban on sport and trophy hunting, which will be phased in next year before becoming absolute in 2014, has drawn increased criticism, and not only from hunters.

Many conservationists have also condemned the decision, calling it short sighted and questioning its likely effect on animal populations.

The Botswana government said the ban will help halt the continuing decline of wildlife in the country and allow for the expansion of photographic safaris in a nation where tourism is the second largest income generator.

“This comes as a realisation that the shooting of wild game purely for sport and trophies is no longer seen to be compatible with either our national commitment to conserve and preserve local fauna or the long term growth of the local tourism industry,” Edmont Moabi, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, said.

The government’s ban, and the reasoning behind it, reflect the campaigning of animal rights groups such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which has been pushing strongly for such bans and has reportedly been having increased influence in Botswana.

The ban is based on the highly criticised research of Dr Mike Chase, who conducted an aerial count of wildlife in the Okavango Delta and concluded that some species had suffered declines of as much as 95 percent in a decade.

There are serious doubts that a sport-hunting ban will affect the decline in wildlife numbers at all. While there is evidence that some professional hunters have operated unethically over the years, the largest drivers of population declines are regarded to be habitat destruction as human populations expand, fires, local hunting for bushmeat and, for certain game species, poaching.

In Kenya, where hunting has been banned for decades, wildlife has seen a 70% decline, indicating the ban has not worked, and lion populations, for example, have continued to fall in areas where Botswana has given them protection from hunting.

Trophy hunting is a low-impact, high-income business that is often carried out in areas too remote or rough for photographic tourism, which relies of transporting large numbers of people paying a relatively small amount of money per head.

Hunting is also used to help manage healthy game herds by culling old, rogue and unhealthy animals, as well as reducing human-animal conflicts by killing problem animals.

The Botswana Wildlife Management Association estimates the ban will leave 4800 people unemployed, and says they are unlikely to find work in photographic tourism.

South Africa’s professional hunters’ association “expects the Botswana government’s plan to promote photographic safaris in the areas that used to be hunting concessions to fail because the areas are basically conducive to hunting activities only,” according to its executive director, Adri Kitshoff. “The end result will be that communities that have previously benefited from the hunting concessions will be adversely affected.”

The argument against the ban was perhaps neatly summed up by conservationist Steve Boyes, who admits he hates sport hunting “with a passion”. He wrote on the National Geographic website: “The basic fact of the matter is that an animal in the bush has no monetary value. A hunting license instantly gives that same animal a monetary value. In Botswana, the photographic safari industry has been able to add more monetary value for the last 10-15 years. I hope this trend continues and we decide one day to put our guns down and pay the same money to take awesome photographs. Until then we need to be practical and use hunting as a conservation tool where applicable.”

There is considerable doubt that photography will ever fully replace the benefits of sport hunting, and perhaps Botswana will demonstrate whether or not the doubts are correct. But it may be a decade or more before any conclusions beccome clear, assuming animal rights groups don’t continue to muddy the waters.




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.