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How Africa is responding to the UK trophy ban

April 25, 2023
topic:Hunting & Poaching
tags:#Africa, #trophy hunting, #hunting ban, #conservation
located:United Kingdom
by:Khonani Ontebetse
Southern African nations warn of the ripple effects such a ban can have on local communities living in close proximity to wildlife.

The recent signing of the Hunting Trophies Bill into law to prohibit the import of hunting trophies into Britain by United Kingdom lawmakers evoked an unpleasant memory for Botswana’s Siyoka Simasuku. 

Simasiku, who is the executive director of NCONGO- an NGO working with communities in Botswana on issues of natural resources management and environmental conservation for sustainable development, likens the move by the UK to Botswana’s 2014 hunting ban, which he claims impeded conservation efforts.

"As Southern Africa, we need to talk with one voice in our effort to convince other countries who could follow suit on how our conservation efforts continue to be bear fruit," Simasiku told FairPlanet. 

Former Botswana President Ian Khama, who instituted the ban while in office, still believes that "photographic tourism is more beneficial for revenue generation, employment and other cultural tourism benefits than hunting."

According to Khama, "There has been an approximately 60-70 percent decline in wildlife since the 1970s."  He is of the view that "Trophy hunting tends to target the best of male species in lions and elephants for the biggest ivory which negatively impacts the gene pool." 

But Simasiku does not share the same sentiments. "Most of the revenue from trophy hunting comes from international professional hunters. This is the money that is ploughed back into income generating activities through community trusts," he said.

He added that profits from trophy hunting do not only generate employment opportunities, but are also allocated to conservation initiatives, such as patrols by some members of the community, animal welfare programmes and the erection of elephant proof fences to reduce incidences of human-wildlife conflict.

"When communities benefit from revenue derived from trophy hunting, there is this sense of ownership," he said, "they feel like they own those animals and therefore play an active role in anti-poaching activities by, among others, alerting rangers about possible poaching activities." 

Simasuku argues that photographic tourism does not generate significant revenue, saying instead that the UK and other countries should, "accommodate our views on why we are pro-trophy hunting that supports and promotes long-term conservation initiatives and to protect biodiversity."

He added that during Botswana’s hunting ban, communities attempted to explore photographic tourism as an alternative to hunting, but scores of community trusts never recovered from the effects of the ban. 

"There is little money generated from photographic tourism when compared to trophy hunting; for instance, a single elephant costs more than $50,000, and with photographic tourism, communities make less from it."

He said  that his organisation and its counterparts in southern Africa have boosted their protest against the banning of trophies in other nations, particularly in Europe, that could be influenced by the UK’s decision. 

"We are members of an umbrella body in the region called Community Leaders Network (CLM), and we have developed common approaches to conservation challenges and a wide strategy for wildlife management, which we keep on sharing with other countries so that they can see the benefits of our wildlife management," he said. 

He added, "We have used CLM to lobby against the ban of trophy at CITES meetings." By "an umbrella body," Simasiku is referring to CLM as a "collaborative grouping of rural representatives from Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe."

Broad disagreement over CITES

CITES is s an international agreement between governments whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.

Simasiku confirmed that in recent years, representatives from CLM travelled to the European parliament and Germany as part of efforts to lobby for trophy hunting. He said they saw it fit to engage in dialogue with such countries, as they were among the nations that want the trading of their trophies to be included in animals listed under the CITES agreement. 

Joseph Mbaiwa, a University of Botswana Professor, argued in a research paper that trophy hunting bans have the potential to jeopardise community livelihoods and increase human-wildlife conflict and poaching.

Isaac Theophilus, chief executive of the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association, shares Mbaiwa's views. In an interview with FairPlanet, he said that southern African heads of states need to spearhead sustainable trophy hunting in their countries as an effective conservation tool. 

"Our heads of state need to touch base with their counterparts and show them our conservation strategies and their positive benefits to local communities," said Theophilus. He explained that "what people need to understand is that elephants and other species are not shot at randomly."

"One of our conservation strategies involves regulated hunting through setting hunting quotas that are based on population trends in a given area and during a specific hunting season; the result is that this also minimises human-wildlife conflict," he added.

He further stated that unlike uncontrolled hunting, where animals could be killed in a non-designated area (regular trophy hunting), "there is need to emphasise that special hunting quota animals are allocated in areas with high incidences of human-wildlife conflict and they not killed in large numbers."

In an interview with FairPlanet, South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment spokesperson Albi Modise seconded Simasuku's position that properly-managed trophy hunting is the way to go.

"Unintended consequences of [the UK's] ban on other countries who might potentially join the UK is of concern to South Africa." 

Christopher Brown, head of the Namibian Chamber of Environment (NCE), recommended to "start looking eastwards to grow our wildlife-based economies that include game meat, trophy hunting and a regulated trade in rhino horn and ivory."

He added, "Let us remove our wildlife policies from their (UK) interference all together by establishing new partners in Asia, based on mutual respects and a non-interference philosophy. That will allow us to grown our wildlife economy, which in turn will promote wildlife as the preferred land use and thus more land under wildlife and biodiversity."

Brown said that Namibia and Southern Africa should also "continue to lobby in the UK, USA and EU, to try and get the rational and open-minded politicians to understand how well conservation in our countries is doing." 

Brown is of the view that as part of diversifying the tourism sector away from importing trophies back into their countries, there is need by Southern Africa to encourage UK and other "hunters to come to our region."

"Many UK hunters do not actually want to take a trophy back to the UK - they come for the wilderness experience, going into big game country, sitting around a campfire, enjoy stalking the animal and the successful chase," he said. "It is the whole hunting experience and much less the trophy. American hunters tend to be different."

Tinashe Farawo, a spokesman for Zimbabwe’s Wildlife Authority, said that such a ban is likely to have many unintended negative ripple effects, which he said "need to be unpacked with more consultation with the affected communities."

"Removal of incentives for communities and private sector to co-exist with, promote and conserve wildlife, particularly species such as elephant and lion, usually results in retaliatory killing by victims of human-wildlife conflict," he said.

He added, "Without substantial benefits, currently occurring to them through sustainable sport hunting, such communities are likely to become poachers - as legal use is removed, leaving them without any other sustainable livelihood option that can generate as much revenue as hunting."

In his report, professor Mbaiwa from the University of Botswana also found that: "If people view wildlife resources as 'theirs' because they realise the benefits of ‘owning’ wildlife resources, and understand that wildlife management needs to be a partnership between them and the government, there is a higher potential for them to conserve wildlife species in their areas." 

A different study in Botswana found that "Both photographic tourism and trophy hunting are sustainable land use options with the potential to achieve wildlife conservation and human well-being in Botswana."

Opposition to trophy hunting continues 

Those who oppose trophy hunting believe that it is not a legitimate conservation tool.

A senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg, Dr Ross Harvey, authored an opinion piece published in the Daily Maverick, in which he states that "Trophy hunting of elephants in Botswana has no place in conservation."

"Trophy hunting to manage numbers is hardly an ecologically sound solution to a problem that has other roots," he further wrote. 

Speaking after his Bill was passed into law, British lawmaker Henry Smith reportedly said: "The House of Commons passing this legislation today marks an important moment in ensuring that this pledge to support conservation becomes a reality [...] Our country does not want to be part of a trade in the body parts of endangered species." 

Reports indicate that the British government did accept a few amendments to the bill - which will see "An advisory board on hunting trophies" established, that the secretary of state will not be able to add new species to the ban list and that the law will be reviewed after five years and that if found wanting the government will scrap it.  

But many Southern African activists insist that further consultation in the form of a trip to southern Africa by UK legislators and those who support then ban could change their minds after learning about the conservation strategies employed by local communities and governments. 

"We will continue to lobby other countries in Europe and other around the world to hear us out and appreciate our best conservation strategies," said Thato Raphaka, Botswana’s Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. 

Image by Wolfgang Hasselmann.

Article written by:
khonani ontebetse
Khonani Ontebetse
United Kingdom
Embed from Getty Images
Former Botswana President Ian Khama. "There has been an approximately 60-70 percent decline in wildlife since the 1970s. Trophy hunting tends to target the best of male species in lions and elephants for the biggest ivory which negatively impacts the gene pool."
Embed from Getty Images
"We will continue to lobby other countries in Europe and other around the world to hear us out and appreciate our best conservation strategies."
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