This article by DSC Foundation Director Matt Boguslawski perfectly encapsulates the story behind the lifting of the hunting suspension in Botswana.
From 1884 to 1885, 14 nations gathered over the course of four months to carve up the African continent during the Berlin Conference. Boundaries where drawn based on natural resources with absolutely no regard for those living within those boundaries. For almost the next hundred years Africa was exploited, her people were massacred and maimed, and cultural animosities were born that catalyzed some of history’s worst travesties.
Facing foreign and internal pressure, the European colonizers granted independence to their colonies throughout the 1960s. The infrastructure remained; however, no formal transition processes were incorporated to allow the African nations to effectively govern and cultivate in the 20th century. Corporations and NGOs filled the vacuum bringing on a new form of colonization that continues to dictate the policies and future of the African continent—a systemic ridding of African state sovereignty.
The 2014 hunting ban in Botswana represented the quintessential interplay between self-interest NGOs and vulnerable African nations. It exacerbated the concept that iconic species are a global asset whose conservation policy can and should be dictated by foreigners. Tragically flawed “scientific” reports claimed Botswana’s elephant population was mismanaged and the hunting-driven community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) program was inadequate. Although the “well-intentioned” ban brought smiles to the masses of the West—and padded pockets to a select few in Botswana—it only disenfranchised those actually living amongst elephant.
Up until the ban, hunting operators provided significant benefits to communities via the CBNRM program by providing cash, meat, jobs, and compensation for crop damage caused by elephant. Hunting operators also supplied critical water supplies for elephant as well as sophisticated anti-poaching programs. The desert/mopane bush—representing the majority of Botswana—turned out not to be as appealing to investors as those touting photographic tourism believed. Vacant former hunting blocks became ground zero for human-wildlife conflict. An overpopulation combined with limited water supplies caused elephant to come to the communities in search of food and water. The completely defunded CBNRM program diminished community perceptions of destructive wildlife. Not only were subsistence crop fields lost but so were many lives.
The call to reevaluate Botswana’s elephant conservation program was largely fueled by a significant increase in well-organized, commercial ivory poaching that invaded deep into Botswana’s interior. Fairly ironically, news of the poaching was brought to the world’s attention by Dr. Mike Chase, the scientist whose studies were used to justify the ban in the first place. A change in Presidency, transparent community consultations, and an African elephant range nation workshop brought about the tremendous decision to reimplement a hunting-driven conservation program.
Humans have irrefutably removed the ability for animals and ecosystems to respond and adapt to changing environments and circumstances. Animals have to be managed and supported by those that now live amongst them—we have invaded their environment and must accept the responsibility of effective long-term conservation solutions. Conservation policy for destructive wildlife—especially wildlife suspect to illicit trade—is a multifaceted and complicated undertaking, which cannot be solved by simple, unilateral, and idealistic concepts such as a hunting ban. Most importantly, lifting the ban represents a categoric shift towards state sovereignty for Africa nations and their right to manage their own affairs free of foreign interference. We look forward to a bright future for Botswana.