On Thursday of this week Botswana’s Ministry of the Environment announced that the African nation will ban big game hunting over concerns with the country’s sharp decline in wildlife populations. The edict, which came directly from President Ian Khama, will go into effect beginning January 1, 2014. In the statement announcing the ban, the Ministry is quoted as saying, “The shooting of wild game for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve local fauna.”
Naturally, the announcement was met with praise from conservationists, but some local groups will likely not be as happy with the ban. Villages in remote regions of the country often make their livelihoods from big game hunting with most hunters traveling from the West to bag their prize. The influx of money brought to Botswana by those visitors has played a key role in the country’s economy and the funds won’t be easy to replace, particularly on a local level.
The ban will still allow for the indigenous people to continue hunting wild game as they have in the past. Some tribes, such as the legendary Kalahari Bushmen, have lived off the land in Botswana for centuries and a complete ban would be a direct threat to their traditional way of life. But over the course of the next year, the country will begin issuing fewer and fewer hunting licenses to foreign visitors as organized commercial hunts come to an end.With more than 130,000 elephants living within its borders, representing roughly a third of the world’s population, Botswana certainly has some fantastic natural resources with which to lure visitors. Tourism plays a vital role in the economy as well and the government hopes it will more than make up for the loss in revenue by promoting itself as an outstanding safari destination. With that in mind, there are already plans afoot to convert some of the current hunting zones into special photographic areas for capturing fantastic images of the wildlife.
The announcement of this ban brings mixed emotions for me. While any steps to protect wildlife in Africa are welcome, I can’t help but think that banning hunting isn’t really the answer to the problem of declining animal populations. In fact, the threat to those populations probably aren’t coming from the hunters themselves but are instead the work of illegal poachers, particularly those looking to harvest ivory from elephants. This ban will have no impact on poaching at all and will only serve to send legitimate hunters to other parts of the continent, taking their money with them when they go.
Hunting can actually be an effective tool for conservation when used effectively. The government has direct control over the number of licenses that it issues on an annual basis and it can scale that number up or down as needed. An outright ban seems to indicate that they haven’t been using hunting as a means for conservation, however, but instead were overselling the licenses as a way to make money.
It will be interesting to see if this ban has any long-term effects on animal populations in Botswana. If over hunting has been a problem, then of course we should see some quick increases in the number of animals in the country. But if poaching or other problems are to blame, the steep decline will likely continue.
[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]