Wildlife tourism is an important segment of Botswana’s tourism industry, representing 80% of the total annual revenue of trips to Botswana. Key to this are protected areas which have led to the growth of the country’s wildlife tourism.
Wildlife tourism can take place either in the animals’ natural environments such as national parks, game reserves or other protected areas or in captivity, such as zoos or rehabilitation centres. Activities during these tours can be classified into two main groups; non-consumptive (viewing and photographing of wild animals) and consumptive which refers to activities such as trophy hunting and fishing.
Since the start of trophy hunting operations in 1996 in Botswana, trophy hunting has grown steadily. The industry employed an estimated 1,000 people, received 350 hunters annually and sold more then 5,500 hunting days per year. In 2011, a year before the trophy hunting ban was announced in the country, the industry netted Botswana US$20 million in revenue annually from 2,500 animals sold to trophy hunters. Botswana specialised in big game such as elephants, buffalo and leopard which generated higher hunting fees from few animals.
The main reason given by the Botswana government for the trophy hunting ban was the decline in the number of wildlife due to trophy hunting – a reason that was widely questioned by trophy hunting operators.
The ban on trophy hunting had an adverse impact as highlighted by various data sources. We therefore set out in 2018 to study the impact of the ban of trophy hunting on local communities. We chose two communities, Sankuyo (400 inhabitants in Northern Botswana) and Mmadinare (12,000 inhabitants in Eastern Botswana). The two communities that were selected for the study, had prior involvement in hunting.
We collected data through interviews with community members and leaders of the community-based organisations trusts. These are legal entities established to represent interests of communities and are often made up of multiple villages of close geographical proximity.
We also interviewed former employees from the hunting sector and small business owners. Some of the questions asked were: how did hunting tourism benefit the community? Was hunting seen as a positive impact on the community? What are the current challenges that the community face since the ban of trophy hunting? Have attitudes toward wildlife changed from the times of trophy hunting?
Participants said they’d lost income as a result of the trophy hunting ban. The study didn’t focus on determining how much or what percentage was lost. Participants said the ban also led to more instances of human-wildlife conflict.
In addition, community members said wild animals were a risk to their livelihoods as they were a danger to livestock and crop production. The 2016 Review of Community Based Natural Resources Management in Botswana, indicated that the top three most important livelihood sources for communities were livestock, social welfare and crops. This can undermine conservation efforts, especially if the benefits of co-existing with wildlife are minimal.
Another finding was that both communities were outraged that they weren’t consulted on the trophy hunting ban in 2014. One of the participants, a business owner, said:
Aah, I don’t know I just heard them saying it will be the last hunting season and they didn’t explain why.
Another participant, former hunting employee, reiterated the business owner’s sentiments:
What I remember is them informing us that hunting is being stopped. As for asking for our opinions, I don’t remember them coming to do that.
The results of the study also showed that the two communities experienced the benefits of trophy hunting differently. Community tourism benefits from trophy hunting are more pronounced in smaller communities.
In Sankuyo community members, former hunting employees and small business operators all said that they benefited through employment contribution, the sale of meat, as well as financial contribution to community development. But in Mmadinare, the larger community, the members felt they didn’t benefit that much from trophy hunting. Although some former hunting employees did mention benefits such as sale of meat, employment and skills development.
The study found that both communities experienced challenges as a result of the ban on trophy hunting. The participants decry an increase in the number of wildlife in the areas and expressed that this has led to an escalation of human-wildlife conflict. This conflict involve mostly elephants, kudus, antelopes and buffaloes which invaded people’s farms.
A former hunting employee in Sankuyo said:
In the past because of trophy hunting it was not easy to see animals around. Nowadays, they are everywhere, sometimes we see them in our yards.
The result was that almost half of the participants (47.8%) of in both communities expressed that their attitudes were negative towards wildlife as a result of escalation in such conflicts. This puts the sustainability of wildlife resources in jeopardy.
Last year Botswana’s parliament passed a motion to lift a ban on elephant hunting, which had been in place since 2014. This will only allow the hunting of elephants and hunting licenses were auctioned in February 2020 as elephants were seen as the main contributors to animal and conflicts with in certain areas.
Our research supports this, and further recommends the lifting of the ban on the remaining animals listed under the ban. This can help to alleviate challenges experienced by households in communities like Sankuyo, where trophy hunting was a key source of income. The lifting of the ban will also reverse the negative attitudes within communities that threaten conservation efforts.