INTERNATIONAL - Botswana’s decision to reintroduce elephant hunting was necessary to protect its people and environment, and hasn’t adversely affected the $2 billion tourism industry, according to Investment, Trade and Industry Minister Joy Kenewendo.
Botswana has the world’s biggest elephant population, with about 130,000 of the animals. Increasing incidents of elephants destroying crops and trampling villagers to death were cited by President Mokgweetsi Masisi as the reason he lifted a hunting ban on wildlife in May.
The decision, condemned by conservation groups, has become a key political issue as Masisi seeks to win re-election next week. The move to keep the elephant population under control could help shore up his support in rural communities but it also widened a rift with his predecessor, Ian Khama, who has since formed a rival party.
The government’s main motivation was to address a human-wildlife conflict that had reached “epidemic proportions,” Kenewendo said in a phone interview from Gaborone, the capital.
“What is important to us is to protect the environment, it’s to protect our people and ensure that there is a balance in the ecosystem,” she said. “When we talk to people on a personal level and when they come here, they get to really understand what we are talking about. As a result we haven’t really seen a big change in our tourism.”
As many as 50 people have been killed by elephants in Botswana since 2014 and hundreds of reports of property damage have been filed. The population of the animals in the country has nearly tripled since 1991.
Tourism, mainly in the form of photographic safaris around the southern African nation’s Okavango and Chobe regions, accounts for a fifth of Botswana’s economy. The government intends allowing 158 elephants to be killed in trophy hunts over the next year. Neighboring South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia all allow hunting.
One-third of the territory in Botswana, the world’s second-biggest diamond producer, has been dedicated to conservation but that’s still not enough to accommodate its growing number of elephants, according to Kenewendo.
“Conservation is part of the tradition,” she said. “The animals are there now because the people have allowed them to be there, they have shared the land, they have shared the resources, and it wouldn’t change overnight. It’s just really trying to find our balance.”