Trophy hunters, San unite against Botswana hunting ban

2014-12-15 20:11
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Maun - Botswana's government has imposed a ban on hunting, saying it's the most effective way to protect animals.

A pro-hunting lobby that includes trophy hunters and San argues that the country has too many elephants - and that hunting is necessary to conserve wildlife.

Two large antelope heads with mighty horns decorate the office of Botswanan taxidermist Debbie Peake, while a photo hanging on the wall shows a man beaming next to a buffalo carcass.

These are the kind of trophies that wealthy Europeans and Americans take home from the southern African country, which gets nearly 9% of its gross domestic product from tourism. They pay up to $10 000 to kill a kudu or, until recently, $50 000 for an elephant.

Trophy hunters in Botswana have included Spain's former king Juan Carlos, whose luxury hunting expedition to kill an elephant sparked a scandal in his unemployment-hit country in 2012.

But Botswana's President Ian Khama - an ardent conservationist - imposed a nationwide hunting ban in January, preventing people from hunting anywhere in the country.

Tourists are only allowed to hunt in private game ranches, where they may shoot a reduced number of species such as the wildebeest and the warthog.


The hunting of elephants has been stopped, even if many wildlife experts say Botswana has too many elephants - about 200 000, up from 40 000 in 1990.

During the dry season, elephants go everywhere, says Peake, a spokesperson for the Botswana Wildlife Management Association, which promotes the interests of the country's wildlife industry.

They knock down fences, trample farmers' crops, scare people and consume so much vegetation that they endanger other species, she adds.

Trophy hunters killed about 400 elephants - and 800 other animals - annually before the ban. That was too few to justify the practice as a means of reducing their number, Peake admits.

"But since the private game ranches measure tens of thousands of hectares, they help to keep land reserved for wildlife, and they also generate money for conservation through taxes and trophy export fees," she said.

Even prior to the ban, hunting was heavily regulated. Animal hunting was under strict quotas, the size of which varied according to the specific area.

Owners of trophy hunting game ranches were granted quotas per animal - for example ten elephants per ranch per year. Some animals were completely protected and excluded from quotas, such as the lion and the leopard.

"Many outsiders imagine that conservation is about being kind to animals. But in reality, it is about conserving the species and making money for that purpose," says Richard Fynn, a senior research scholar on range land ecology and management at the University of Botswana.

The government, however, says aerial surveys have shown some animal species to be on the decline and that it wants to assess the situation.

It also wants to combat poaching, or illegal hunting. Poachers coming mainly from Zambia killed about 60 elephants in Chobe national park - the main area where they operated - in 2012.

Those in favour of the hunting ban see it as reflecting a strong commitment to conservation. "It is far from certain that we have too many elephants, as experts differ on what a suitable number would be," environmentalist Map Ives said.

Subsistence hunting  

The hunting ban does not only affect trophy hunters, but also Botswanans who hunt for subsistence.

Campaigners like Peake have found an ally in Botswana's San - numbering about 50 000 in total and regarded as descendants of the original inhabitants of southern Africa - who typically hunt antelopes and giraffes.

The San argue that they practised a form of ecological hunting, limiting their tools to the traditional bows, arrows and spears used for millennia. They are now preparing to challenge Khama's hunting ban in court.

"We have always lived with animals ecologically in the wild and respected the animals we hunt," activist Jumanda Gakelebone says, stressing the sense of closeness with animals.

But while activists claim that the San use only low-tech hunting equipment, some have clearly been swayed by modernity. On a recent visit to hunting grounds, dpa observed the use of firearms.

As the San face legal battles over their subsistence hunting, their new found allies look to return to another kind of tradition.

"Trophy hunting is not essentially about killing. It is about the outdoor experience, the tracking of the animal, the hardship that can last for 10 days - the sense of achievement," Peake says.

Read more on:    botswana  |  environment  |  southern africa  |  animals
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