Politics and Hunting in Botswana

By Dr John Ledger

In 2014 the then President of Botswana, Ian Khama, unexpectedly announced the banning of all hunting in his country. This caused consternation in the hunting community and brought confusion and distress to local rural communities around hunting areas who had benefited materially and financially from the hunting industry. They were simply cut off from an important source of money, protein and other wildlife products and work opportunities. It has been said that former President Khama was strongly influenced by animal rights and anti-hunting activists. Whichever way you look at it, the lack of consultation and proper planning of the hunting ban was shameful.


But as they say, what goes around comes around. Just over four years down the line, Botswana has a new President, and one with a different style to his predecessor, in that he is apparently more willing to listen to the people. And the people tell him that they are suffering damage to their homes, crops, and even loss of life resulting from the impacts of wild animals which, since the hunting ban, are of no value to them. President Masisi appointed a committee (‘The Hunting Ban SubCommittee of Cabinet’) to consult the people through tribal meetings known as ‘kgotlas’, where everyone has an opportunity to be heard. In its formal report back (in the form of ‘Handover Notes’) to the President, the subcommittee made the following key points:


“From the submissions made by the communities and other stakeholders, the Committee as assigned by Your Excellency, found it necessary to propose the following recommendations, stated here in summary form.


Hunting ban be lifted;
Develop a legal framework that will create an enabling environment for growth of safari hunting industry;
Manage Botswana elephant population within its historic range;
Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) should undertake an effective community outreach program within the elephant range for Human Elephant Conflict mitigation;
Strategically placed human wildlife conflict fences be constructed in key hotspot areas;
Game ranches be demarcated to serve as buffers between communal and wildlife areas;
Compensation for damage caused by wildlife, ex gratia amounts and the list of species that attract compensation be reviewed. In addition, other models that alleviate compensation burden on Government be considered;
All wildlife migratory routes that are not beneficial to the country’s conservation efforts be closed;
The Kgalagadi southwesterly antelope migratory route into South Africa should be closed by demarcating game ranches between the communal areas and Kgalagadi Wildlife Management Areas;
Regular but limited elephant culling be introduced and establishment of elephant meat canning, including production of pet food and processing into other by-products.”


Some of these submissions made by rural communities are rather bizarre, and unlikely to be implemented by government, but it should be remembered that these are people who are so angry and frustrated by the impacts of wild animals, especially elephants, that their emotions have boiled over to the extent that they have come up with the idea of culling them and turning them into pet food! These thoughts have certainly caused a furore among the animal-rightists, but I doubt any of them have had family members killed by elephants. It also seems improbable that the government would sanction such activities, or unrealistic ideas for fences, but the realities of elephant management in the long run are that someone has to have the courage to take the ‘tough love’ road, as difficult as that may seem.


The important point is that the debate on the role of wildlife in Botswana has been re-opened and government has an opportunity to come up with some innovative policies regarding the relationship between people and wildlife outside the formally protected areas of the country. There is little doubt that the people of Botswana have been looking with interest at the wildlife policies of their neighbour, Namibia, where community conservation programmes have resulted in a high level of tolerance by people for wildlife, because they benefit from its presence. These benefits range from tourism and hospitality, from subsistence and trophy hunting that can be conducted in areas that are not suitable for photographic safaris, and from the breeding, sale and relocation of sought-after species.


There is no good reason why Botswana cannot implement a sound national wildlife management policy that will see rural communities benefitting from the wild animals living on their land. Benefits from the wildlife sharing space with humans results in tolerance. There are limits to tolerance, however, and predators will always require management and control when they exceed the bounds of tolerance. Namibia has learned how to do this, and reach a balance between the rights of stock farmers and the tourism benefits of seeing predators in adjacent areas. Custodianship must benefit the custodians, and wildlife must be able to make a financial contribution to the well-being of the human occupants of the land. Hunting has a major role to play in rural economies, and can be implemented with proper checks and balances and quotas based on sound management principles.


There is little doubt that the government of Botswana will be at the centre of a huge debate about how it should be managing its wildlife in future. Hunters should give their firm support to government for the re-opening of hunting in areas that are best suited for these activities, and where local people can benefit from regulated, well-managed and high value hunting operations.


The animal-rightists and anti-hunting lobby will of course do their best to dissuade Botswana from implementing wildlife management policies similar to those that are working in Namibia. Indeed, I have noticed a recent trend that looks like a deliberate campaign to ignore or sideline the Namibian success story, because it does not sit well with the animal-rights and anti-hunting lobby.


For example, I recently read and reviewed a new book on elephants (Pinnock, Don & Colin Bell (Compilers) (2019). The Last Elephants. Struik Nature, an imprint of Penguin Random House South Africa (Pty) Ltd, Cape Town). It is largely a propaganda piece aimed at the forthcoming CITES meeting. Under the country heading Namibia, there is a single article about ‘social structure’, ‘male and female society’, ‘genetic links’, ‘feeding activities and more in the ‘Desert-dwelling elephants of north-west Namibia’.


But nowhere is there any mention of Namibia’s success in community-based conservation, of its massive community conservation areas, of its government’s unwavering support for both trophy hunting and subsistence hunting, of the benefits that have flowed to rural communities through a balanced approach towards sustainable consumptive wildlife utilisation, alongside eco-tourism opportunities. How does Namibia manage conflicts between rural communities, elephants and lions, for example? Why does this book choose to ignore the success story of conservation in Namibia, and make no mention of one of the most significant books on the region, An Arid Eden, by Garth Owen-Smith?


Let us hope that Botswana will soon join Namibia by introducing a new wildlife policy that suits its country and its people, and not the prohibitionists who apparently cannot stand the thought of Africans benefiting from the wild animals on their land.



Dr John Ledger is an independent consultant and writer on energy and environmental issues, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. John.Ledger@wol.co.za


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