Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

THE Botswana Wildlife Management Association has expressed concern over plans by the Botswana government to introduce a ban on hunting from January, saying the decision was a departure from previous agreements.

Botswana’s hunting industry generates about $40m annually and 450 people are employed at different levels in the safari industry.

Under the Botswana government’s plan there will be no quotas, licences or permits issued for hunting of part 1 and part 2 schedule game animals as listed in the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act.

Part 1 refers to partially protected animals such as leopard, lions, elephant, blesbuck, sable and eland.

Part 2 refers to protected game animals such as zebra, elephants, duiker, steinbuck, kudu, impala, lechwe, springbok, buffalo, blue hartebeest, tsessebe and ostrich.

Licences will continue to be issued for game birds listed in part 3 of the same law, subject to conditions to be determined by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Hunting in registered game ranches will not be affected by the ban since they are privately owned.

The government can also expect some resistance from communities that depend on the proceeds from hunting.

The environment, wildlife and tourism ministry says it is aware that community-based organisations which hunt the designated wildlife for food are anxious about the potential effect of the ban. The ministry says those communities were given prior notice and are being encouraged to make a living from the proceeds of Botswana’s popular photographic tourism industry.

Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Minister Tshekedi Khama has defended the hunting ban, saying: "The decision to temporarily ban hunting has been necessitated by available information which indicates that several species in the country are showing declines. The causes of the decline are likely due to a combination of factors such as anthropogenic impacts, including illegal offtake and habitat fragmentation or loss."

The association strongly disputed the government’s suggestions that hunting was causing a decline in species, saying it was "disingenuous".

"We recommend that government continue to support hunting of elephants in specific areas. The elephant population in Botswana is the single biggest population of elephant in Africa," the spokeswoman for the association, Debbie Peake, said on Monday.

"They are not threatened and are increasing at approximately 4% per annum.

"As they increase annually, they spread into other areas causing conflict with humans and livestock.

"Expansion of this elephant population is also threatening Botswana’s biodiversity," Ms Peake said.

"The hunting industry has been working with the government for nearly seven years now on the government’s intention to phase out sport hunting in selected areas.

At the outset, the industry was assured by the then minister of environment, wildlife and tourism that hunting of elephants would continue in specific areas.

"Also the terminology of a ban implies that sport hunting has had a detrimental effect on wildlife, which is also false. There are numerous factors, such as drought, flooding, fire, illegal off-take, veterinary fences, among others, that have caused specific declines — not sport hunting, so calling this a ban casts the wrong impression about the role sport hunting has played in conservation in Botswana for the last 30 years."

According to the latest official figures compiled by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks on 26 animal species countrywide, the animal population in Botswana is generally stable while the elephant population has significantly increased.

The elephant population was estimated at 207,545 with a 297% rise between 1992 and last year.

Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve confirmed the trend, while numbers were also building in Makgadikgadi Pan and Nxai Pan national parks.

Another species enjoying significant growth was the hippo. This species generally tends to be undercounted by aerial surveys and may not yield reliable estimates, Ms Peake said.

There was growth in the numbers of all other species except lechwe, sable, sitatunga, springbok and tsessebe, although these figures "were not statistically significant".

The population number for lechwe declined 59% between 1992 and last year, while springbok and tsessebe declined by 71% and 79% over the same period.