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Controversy grows over elephant trophy hunting

June 07, 2022
topic:Hunting & Poaching
tags:#trophy hunting, #Botswana, #elephant hunting, #endangered species
by:Cyril Zenda
This year’s hunting season in Botswana kicked off with giant killing acts: the shooting of two of the biggest elephant bulls, triggering both anger and jubilation from the extreme ends of the wildlife conservation camps.

In April, at the opening of Botswana’s controversial six-month trophy hunting season, two large-tusked African savannah elephant bulls were killed. The two massive bulls, killed in northern Botswana, had tusks that weighed more than 100 pounds (48 kg) and 90 pounds (40 kg) each, respectively - marking them among Africa’s largest elephants. 

While some local Batswana communities that directly benefit from these hunts celebrated the killings, not everyone was impressed.

Anger And Condemnation

"This was one of the largest, if not the largest, tusker in the country," bemoaned Botswana’s immediate-past president Ian Khama, when the first bull was killed. "An elephant that tour operators constantly tried to show tourists as an iconic attraction. Now it is dead. How does it being dead benefit our declining tourism due to poor policies? Our tourism is wildlife based. No wildlife means no tourism, no tourists no jobs, and no revenue stream."

During his term of office, Khama had imposed a ban on trophy hunting, but the current President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted it upon his inauguration in 2019.

"Incompetence and poor leadership have almost wiped out the rhino population, and now this!" fumed the former leader who has always been openly critical of his successor.

Audrey Delsink, Humane Society International’s Africa wildlife director, chimed in to condemn the hunts. 

"It is incomprehensible that two of the last great tuskers of Africa have been slaughtered as trophies for a fee," Delsink said in a statement. "There is no replacing the intrinsic value that these extraordinary, majestic beings contributed to elephant society, genetics and natural history.

"Make no mistake," Delsink went on, "these once living icons were mowed down in the prime of his life, for the sake of a record book entry. These deaths are not only a travesty on a biological scale, but an indication that humankind’s moral compass is in serious need of realignment."

Wildlife Corridor becomes 'Fear Zone'

Other conservationists are also furious that these hunts took place within the Botswana part of the five-nation Kavango Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area, a vast area specifically established to protect wildlife migration corridors.

The initiative seeks to create one of Africa’s most important wildlife refuges. It is the world’s largest transfrontier conservation area, spanning around 520,000km2 (larger than Germany and Austria combined), and covers the Okavango and Zambezi river basins, where the borders of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet. It includes 36 national parks, game reserves, community conservancies and game management areas, most notably Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta and the Victoria Falls National Park.

Simon Espley, chief executive of African Geographic, a leading conservation publication, pointed out that this practice of hunting within the wildlife migration corridors does not help efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflicts. 

Human-elephant conflict occurs in areas where humans and wildlife compete for land and water, resulting in many rural human lives and livelihoods being lost. 

"The 100-pounder hunt took place in NG13 in the elephant migration corridor that KAZA hopes will help reduce human-elephant conflict, Espley pointed out. "Angola and Zambia have large tracts of suitable elephant habitat and the KAZA strategy is to ensure that wildlife migration corridors remain free of obstacles and fear zones - so that elephants can again move freely between the KAZA countries and place less pressure on Botswana’s people and ecosystems."

"The location of this hunt pegs NG13 as a 'fear zone' for elephants," Espley added, "resulting in this particular hunt being damaging to Botswana’s wish to reduce human-elephant conflict and so improve the lives of its people."

Critics of trophy hunting argue that hunters primarily target the biggest, most imposing and oldest elephants - a practice highly detrimental to their population as these are the ones that provide critically important ecological and social knowledge that is key to the survival of the entire group.

This anti-hunting lobby claims that the two tuskers killed in Botswana were part of the continent's last remaining elite group, which numbers only 40. There are over 400,000 of the jumbos in about a dozen African elephant range states. 

Espley added that human-elephant conflict or habitat issues persist even after the surgical removal of Africa’s remaining large-tusked elephants by trophy hunters in the name of conservation. 

"The volume of elephants hunted is not sufficient to reduce elephant populations. Instead, the likely result of the selection of large-tusked elephants as trophies will be to hasten the disappearance of tuskers from the African landscape."

Trophy Hunting Vigorously Defended

However, local Batswana community leaders say criticism of the hunts is baseless. 

The vice chairman of the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust (CECT) Nchunga Nchunga said the hunting is not done in a haphazard or indiscriminate manner, as detractors would want the world to believe.

"Trophy hunting itself, the way we conduct it here - it’s a way of conservation," Nchunga told FairPlanet. "The government doesn’t just issue quotas without animal census to determine which species is to be reduced, and also looking at the communities living in areas close to national parks and game reserve who get into human-wildlife conflict."

In Botswana, the hunting season runs throughout the dry (brown) season from April to September, and Nchunga said the benefits of these hunts to communities are immense. 

"Communities benefit a lot in this trophy hunting. It generates income, which helps in the development of the villages because the monies generated here is invested back into the community," he said. "There is awareness within the community that these animals, if they learn to live with them despite the problems they cause, they can still benefit from them."

He added that his community had earned more than 10 million Botswana Pula ($834,000) from trophy hunting fees since the hunting ban was lifted in 2019, stating that the money had gone towards funding various projects through the village development committees.

"The Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust’s 2019-2020 hunting quota, which was moved to 2021 due to COVID-19, gave us 5.6 million Pula ($470,000) sold by auction. The 2022 hunting quota gave us 4.6 million Pula ($380,000) and this was open bidding."

Nchunga said that allegations of hunting causing irreparable damage to tourism were false, as his community practices both consumptive and non-consumptive tourism without any problem.

"Consumptive tourism [hunting] and non-consumptive tourism [photography] go hand in hand with benefiting the community. As you might note that we do have two lodges in the Chobe Enclave, which offer photography. This is done so well that there is no conflict between the two."

Chieftainess Rebecca Banika of the Paleka Community, located in the same elephant-rich Chobe District, also defended trophy hunting as a conservation method.

She said that since the lifting of the ban, the three villages that make the Paleka Community Trust - Pandamatenga, Lesoma and Kazungula - had received least 13.2 million Pula ($1.1 million) from their hunting quotas.

"My community benefits also from the carcasses of the animals killed [...] with the escalating prices for food and other commodities, at least they have free meat,” the Chieftainess told FairPlanet.

"My community also gets employment as they are directly hired as escort guides, trackers etc. With this money and some help from other development partners, some youths have been sponsored for studies in various academic institutions and programmes," she added. "So I’m pleading with those who are against trophy hunting to listen to our plea, we know best how to conserve our animals."

Image by David Clode.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Embed from Getty Images
“The volume of elephants hunted is not sufficient to reduce elephant populations. Instead, the likely result of the selection of large-tusked elephants as trophies will be to hasten the disappearance of tuskers from the African landscape.”
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