SCI Foundation’s African Wildlife Consultative Forum is being hosted in Kasane, Botswana this year. The forum facilitates collaboration on solutions to wildlife challenges and allows coordinated responses to current conservation issues, especially international hunting. An important aspect of international hunting is the mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, of which Botswana is a unique case study.
Unfortunately, human-wildlife conflict continues to rise as human populations expand and communities develop. The solutions are as diverse as the problems, but the main approaches include wildlife-accommodating solutions, international hunting, and wildlife fences.
Wildlife-accommodating solutions attempt to mitigate conflict through natural means. For example, when lions attack livestock, a common solution is to paint eyes on the rear of cattle to simulate another predator’s eyes. Another example addresses the rampant elephant destruction; it only takes one night for a single elephant to destroy an entire field of crops. Elephants have a natural aversion to beehives and peppers, so these are often placed along the borders of fields as natural deterrents. These are part of the solution, but are certainly not the full picture.
The prevailing issue in Botswana is elephant attacks, which do not stop at crops. Elephants frequently attack homes, buildings, and even people. The population has expanded to unsustainable levels in recent years to the point where the ecosystem cannot support the continually increasing number. Most importantly, it is dangerous for the communities living alongside elephants. Conflict significantly increased after the hunting moratorium in 2014, but due to the needs of community livelihoods and wildlife management, it was lifted in 2019. In Botswana as elsewhere, international hunting is often the only or most viable solution to mitigating conflict, supporting community livelihoods, and creating conservation incentives.
To keep predators away from villages, high wildlife fences are used around national parks; these have varying success, but are difficult to maintain. Animals severely damage fences by elephants knocking them down or other species burrowing underneath, resulting in a failure to keep wildlife in the park. Over time, they can become so damaged that in many places it is nonexistent or is so mangled that it becomes a threat to wildlife as they get caught in the fencing. Widespread damage also provides no poaching deterrent, thus providing few benefits to wildlife. Finally, predators can easily leave the park to prey on villagers and cattle, resulting in dangerous situations and huge economic loss.
Additionally, Botswana is home to the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world with totally unique ecosystems and wildlife. It is also home to many rural communities, for which ecotourism and international hunting are some of the only employment opportunities. While agriculture is one of the country’s leading industries, communities in the Delta can not own livestock due to European import requirements. These require that domestic cattle be kept separate from wildlife, such as buffalo, which spread foot and mouth disease. To meet these European requirements, a fence runs across the entire country separating the Delta from the rest of Botswana.
This fence is also not an effective solution. Cattle continues to be exposed to wildlife due to damaged fencing, the fence interrupts natural wildlife habitat and migration, and predators continue to attack cattle. This fence does little to help wildlife or communities, and it is one of many examples of European standards negatively impacting African communities and wildlife with few alternatives.
While not the only solution, international hunting provides communities, especially in Botswana, with the resources and incentives to tolerate human wildlife conflict and is essential to dealing with dangerous problem animals. Unfortunately, Western animal rights groups demand international hunting bans without posing any alternative solutions, with devastating results to communities and species. Wildlife issues and coexistence initiatives are complicated, but the full solution must include international hunting, and most importantly community and African leadership.