With elephant hunting banned in Botswana, locals are complaining that the wild pachyderms are free to wreak havoc on their livelihoods.
Until recently, elephant populations in Botswana were carefully regulated by hunting. Local communites were granted annual quotes to kill a certain number of elephants, and often sold those quotas to hunters for high prices. But in January 2014, Botswana imposed a near absolute ban on hunting all animals, in a move intended to half the decline of springbok and other species suffering from poaching and habitat loss.
However, villagers who live near wild habitats say that law has disrupted the balance between elephants and humans, allowing the animals to run rampant. They report massive losses of crops to elephants, who can consume over 500 pounds a day. Villages say with hunting banned, the elephant population has rapidly expanded, and they are powerless to respond.
With income from elephant hunters gone, communities are also reportedly struggling to fill the financial void. Government officials in Botswana point to the tourism industry as the answer, saying travelers provide a year-round boost to the economy that can’t be matched by a few hunters during the limited hunting season. With Botswana holding a third of the world’s wild African elephants, it’s a beacon for tourists seeking a first-hand view of the world’s largest land animal.
But wildlife experts and tourism operators are calling into question the effectiveness of the hunting ban, and if tourism alone can support villagers. Julian Blanc, from the Convention of Interantional Trade in Endangered Species, says sustainable and managed hunting can help support a healthy African elephant population.
“In many places, tourism doesn’t quite work,” said Blanc. “So hunting is an option available to all governments, and many of them use it quite successfully, as Botswana did for quite a few years.”
Some safari operators also point out that animals targeted on hunts are older bulls who are no longer breeding, and that banning hunting can lead to elephant overpopulation.
However, the government has shown no signs of backing down on the ban, and point towards their successful conservation programs as justification. The country is a rare refuge for elephants. Experts predict that almost no elephants were poached in Botswana last year, even while as many as 30,000 others were taken elsewhere in Africa.
The government says the hunting ban is an important part of making Botswana a safe and comfortable place for elephants to live. But according to many, the ban doesn’t guarantee the same for their human neighbors.