Why a ban on hunting in Botswana isn’t the answer to challenges facing the country

Banning hunting can have negative impacts on the conservation of animals. Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

When Botswana’s government announced a ban on hunting about two years ago, the news was welcomed by anti-hunting organisations.

But communities, hunting operators and game farmers were not happy at all. Hunting, and especially trophy hunting, generates millions - particularly in rural areas where there are high levels of unemployment and poverty.

Where the money goes

It is also important to understand where and how hunters spend money when they take a hunting trip. Firstly, there’s transport: travel costs, including flights and moving to the location. Then they need accommodation, food and drinks. Finally, it costs money to book the species they are hunting, the professional hunters who ensure permits are obtained, trackers, skinners and taxidermists.

Aside from employment opportunities, communities also benefit. In most cases the carcasses are donated or sold at a cheap rate to communities, since the trophy hunters cannot transport the meat so only take the horns and skin. These hunters are big spenders, investing on average more than US$10 000 per trip, which is considerably higher than the average spending by any other type of tourist.

The ban therefore implies a loss in taxes, foreign exchange and jobs. But Botswana’s story does not end here.

Poverty persists

Another major threat facing wildlife in Botswana is an increase in poaching. Media reports, specifically referring to elephants, as well as personal contacts, confirm that they are experiencing a rise in incidents. Poaching is fuelled by two sources, poverty and greed.

This applies for communities and hunting operators alike. A very good example is the killing of Cecil the lion, which was shot in Zimbabwe for approximately US$50 000. The higher the levels of poverty the more one is going to see this happening and a total ban will not alleviate the problem.

The latest report on species numbers in southern Africa shows that South Africa and Namibia are two of the few countries where wildlife is on the increase. The rest of the countries are all experiencing high levels of poaching and a decrease in the number of wild animals.

This implies that from a conservation point of view wildlife is not doing well and one of the reasons for this is because hunting creates huge value. People protect what is valuable to them. And if hunting helps them get money and other goods from the animal, it is certainly in their best interests to look after the animals.

Anti-hunting organisations believe that photographic safaris are a natural and better replacement. The reality is that it is not easy to replace hunters with photographic tourists since they:

  • On average they spend less than hunters.

  • Photographic safaris can be done almost anywhere in the world and they are not limited to game farms or concession areas where hunting is limited to specific destination or areas.

  • Finally, you do not require as many skills to do photographic safaris compared with hunting safaris.

From a South African perspective, the ban in Botswana could lead to an increase in hunting demand. South Africa and other African countries that allow hunting will benefit from the ban since those who hunt legally will seek another destination.

In addition, Botswana is experiencing problems with high numbers of specific species such as elephants that are causing serious damage to the environment. This raises the question: who really benefits here and what good can come out of it?

Kenya is a good example of where a hunting ban failed. In the 1970s Kenya banned elephant hunting as their numbers had dwindled. This did not make a difference as wealthy and politically connected people were major players in the ivory trade game. The ban did not apply to them. The ivory was in such high demand that officials needed a small bribe and were able to hunt ivory. Three times the number of elephants were hunted after the ban was put in place.

A hunting ban is not the answer to solve the issues raised by both the anti-hunting proponents and the conservationists. There are many examples in South Africa that prove that a well managed hunting operation generates economic benefits for the broader community, creates jobs and contributes significantly to conservation.

It is better to exclude specific species that are endangered from the hunting list. South Africa has done this successfully in the past and it is currently being done with rhino. Issuing limited permits for species under threat, as is currently done for leopard, is a better option. The answer clearly lies in the effective management of our resources.