Ian Khama, former president of Botswana, resigns from ruling party when successor undoes ban on trophy hunting
Editor’s note: Outraged and disappointed that his handpicked successor Mokgweetsi Masisi had ended a five-year-old ban on trophy hunting, Ian Khama, president of Botswana from 2008 to 2018, on May 25, 2019 resigned from the Botswana Democratic Party and pledged to seek the defeat of Masisi in the next national election.
The Botswana Democratic Party, founded by Khama’s father Sir Sretse Khama, president of Botswana from 1966 to 1980, has ruled without interruption since Botswana won political independence from Great Britain in September 1966.
“I do not recognize this party anymore. It was a mistake to choose Masisi as my successor. I will now work with the opposition to make sure that the BDP loses power in October,” Khama told media.
Khama himself is ineligible to run against Masisi, since he has already served the maximum two terms as president allowed by the Botswana constitution.
Word of Khama’s resignation reached ANIMALS 24-7 barely an hour after Africa Network for Animal Welfare senior communications officer Sebastian Mwanza emailed us the following commentary on what is at stake in Botswana.
Botswana, please rethink resuming hunting!
by Sebastian Mwanza
Wildlife advocates and indeed the world celebrated in 2014 when Botswana, then led by former President Ian Khama, a keen conservationist, imposed and implemented a ban on all forms of sport hunting, to deter poaching, after surveys showed declining populations of a range of species, from elephants and African lions to small antelopes and pangolins.
The celebration ended after Khama’s successor, Mokgweetsi Masisi, on May 22, 2019 announced that the five-year-old ban on sport hunting ban had been scrapped. Hunting would resume, the Masisi government declared, in “an orderly and ethical manner” following a review of national conservation policy.
Consultation rigged to favor hunters
According to a communique from the Botswana Ministry of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation & Tourism, relayed via Facebook, a cabinet sub-committee appointed by Masisi in June 2018 had reviewed the hunting ban and recommended lifting it.
The Facebook post further said that Botswana’s local authorities, affected communities, non-governmental organizations, tourism operators, and conservationists had been extensively consulted.
Tourism industry excluded
News accounts indicated otherwise.
“The Hunting Ban Social Dialogue report,” as the official rationalization of lifting the hunting ban is titled, “is based on consultation meetings with only some rural communities affected by the 2014 hunting ban,” wrote Louise de Waal for The South African on May 20, 2019.
“It strangely excludes the tourism industry and its beneficiary communities,” de Waal continued. “Tourism is the second largest GDP earner in Botswana after diamonds. However the industry appears to have been cowed by threats made by Kitso Mokaila, minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation & Tourism, such as ‘You must remember where your bread is buttered and support us.’
“It also seems odd,” de Waal observed, “that President Masisi takes advice from the controversial hunter Ron Thomson, who applauded Masisi’s highly criticized elephant management proposals. Thomson claims to have personally slaughtered 5,000 elephants (and supervised the killing of many thousands more), 800 buffalo, 600 lions, and 50 hippos, but refuses to be part of a televised debate that includes an opposing voice.”
The ministry cited as reasons for lifting the hunting ban escalating human/elephant conflict, increasing predation [on livestock], negative impact of the hunting suspension on livelihoods and lack of capacity within the Botswana Department of Wildlife & National Parks to regulate the ban.
Conservationists across the globe are not convinced and have warned that the elephant population in particular could plummet further toward extinction if the ban remains scrapped for long.
Many elephant conservationists have already warned that continent-wide and international efforts to stop the illegal ivory trade are likely to suffer from resumed elephant hunting in Botswana, with a catastrophic effect on elephants across Africa.
Former President Khama also weighed in and criticized the move as purely political, intended only to shore up rural support ahead of the October 2018 national election.
Khama: hunting elephants “devalues the resource”
“Our tourism has been really booming in recent years, and the elephant probably stands out above anything else that people want to see,” Khama said, adding “If you are going to start hunting and getting rid of them, you are going to start devaluing that resource.”
In purely economic terms, resuming elephant trophy hunting carries the risk of hurting Botswanian tourism. Currently, Botswana markets itself as a “luxury safari destination,” attracting wealthy visitors eager to interact with elephants and other wildlife in their native habitat. This requires that there be abundant elephants and other wildlife, in a safe environment.
Dan Bucknell, executive director of Tusk, the Duke of Cambridge’s conservation charity, called the move “sad and disappointing.”
Said Bucknell, “We fully understand that human/elephant conflict is a very real and growing problem for rural communities across much of Africa, but there are many effective approaches that can be taken to prevent it and protect people and their livelihoods.”
“No such thing as ‘ethical’ hunting”
Elephant expert and WildlifeDirect chief executive Paula Kahumbu, Ph.D., equally alarmed by the announcement, wrote, “There is no such thing as ‘ethical’ hunting. It is an oxymoron.
“The whole world is turning away from hunting. It is increasingly seen as an archaic practice. This is very, very damaging to the image of Botswana as a global leader in elephant conservation,” Kahumbu added.
“In an African context, the idea to lift the hunting ban in Botswana is misguided, unfortunate and misinformed,” Africa Network for Animal Welfare chief operations director Kahindi Lekahaile told the BBC. “The message the action sends across the continent of Africa is that hunting will solve most of the human/wildlife problems that affect African society, and that is not true.”
Commented Jason Bell, International Fund for Animal Wefare vice president for conservation, “This is a political move and not in the best interests of conservation in Botswana.”
“Botswana is elephants’ last refuge”
Offered Don Pinnock, a conservation journalist and author of The Last Elephants, published earlier in 2019, “Botswana is the last refuge for these elephants, and suddenly that refuge is going to start hunting them.”
Agreed Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block, who also heads the subsidiary Humane Society International, “What a shame that Botswana, previously hailed as a shining example of wildlife conservation and a haven for elephants, has opted to become a promoter of trophy hunting. Co-existence between wild animals and communities is the only way that wildlife populations will survive. We implore Botswana’s government to think again.”
Botswana has a third of the elephants in Africa
A recent census by Elephants Without Borders found that Botswana hosts the most African savanna elephants of any nation, with about 130,000 in all. This is more than three times as many as Tanzania, almost eight times as many as South Africa, about a third of the entire elephant population of the African continent, and the most elephants of any species of any nation in the world.
Before European colonization, scientists believe Africa may have held as many as 20 million elephants. By 1979 only 1.3 million remained. The first Great Elephant Census, a pan-African survey conducted in 2016, revealed that in just seven years, between 2007 and 2014, elephant numbers plummeted by at least 30%, or 144,000.
Today, some 415,000 elephants roam Africa, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is less a third as many as in 1979, with the decline over the past 40 years attributable mostly to ivory poaching.
What has Botswana said?
The main justification offered by Botswana for lifting the hunting ban has been responding to supposedly increasing levels of human/wildlife conflict, particularly involving elephants.
Human/wildlife conflict is a real problem to people living with wildlife on a day-to-day basis, and indeed needs to be addressed.
However, no research-based evidence suggests that human/wildlife conflict is actually increasing.
Further, trophy hunting can never, and should never, have a such an impact on elephant or other wildlife densities that it can reduce human/wildlife conflict. Human/wildlife conflict involves animals of every age, size, and gender, not just the big tusker elephants most often shot by trophy hunters. Shooting enough animals to eliminate human/wildlife conflict through hunting would require making practically every animal a trophy.
Communities should be helped to find better ways
Communities should be helped to find better and more sustainable ways to deal with elephants and other wildlife.
The Botswana government is now not only talking about lifting the ban on elephant hunting. Predators, especially African lions, are also in the gunsights, with the claim that their numbers are increasing.
As with elephants, though, there is no scientific evidence to back up the Botswana government statements. Many areas in Botswana are still trying to recover from overhunting in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly of the lion population.
Botswana, which is the size of France, is mostly an arid country. Vast tracts of remote wilderness make Botswana a magnet for foreign tourists who want to view wildlife.
Therefore, the world is urging President Masisi to rethink the move to lift the ban.
Four years ago, in 2015 to be exact, an open letter to an American rhino hunter, Corey Knowlton, by Raabia Hawa, an honorary Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) game warden and founder of the Walk with Rangers initiative, set the internet ablaze.
“Please Sir,” Hawa wrote. “I plead with you to understand what we are facing. Exactly a year and some days ago now, my colleague and good friend was shot by poachers. He stood between them and a rhino they had targeted. He took the bullet for the rhino. He didn’t ask its age, he didn’t ask if it was a breeding bull, he didn’t ask if it was male or female, white or black. He just saw poachers and a rhino and did what he knew he had to do. That, kind Sir, is true conservation, management and protection that will ensure the survival of our precious rhino species.”
This emotive letter by Hawa is a testament to true conservation and not sport hunting.
“Sport hunting is not about conservation”
Some people in Africa, have been duped into believing that sport hunting will aid conservation in the continent. It will not. It never has. Sport hunting is not about conservation, and governments that continue to allow such ‘fun hunts’ of endangered and critical species must be ashamed.
Trophy hunters will say that Africa’s wildlife is worth the thousands of dollars paid to kill them, which is later pumped into conservation. But imagine what would happen if a single tourist came to Botswana and spent some money shooting its wildlife with a camera and not a gun. The animals would survive to see another day, and the number of tourists who would spend more money in the country, just to come and see the animals and their subsequent offspring, would be great.
“Please, think again!”
Studies have shown that only 3% to 5% of the income from trophy hunts ends up benefitting the locals. Revenue from nature tourism in which the animal is not killed already brings in three to 15 times what is generated through trophy hunts in Africa, and as Africa becomes more accessible to foreign visitors, could easily bring in many times more.
And so, to Botswana, this is a historic moment: resuming hunting, aside from gaining your country huge disrepute, will also go against the very fiber of what you have been trying so hard to achieve, the protection and good management of the last wild species within your borders.
Please, think again!