This article first appeared in The Daily Caller
As the COVID-19 crisis dominants the world’s attention and media headlines, the global response needs to consider the impact of a tourism shutdown to wildlife conservation. Closed borders and travel restrictions are jeopardizing millions of acres of habitat managed by safari operators and the many livelihoods they support.
In Botswana for example, years of work to reinstate a sustainable hunting program that drives benefits into rural areas is now on hold. With quotas already purchased and hunts booked, the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association is urgently calling on the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism and its Department of Wildlife and National Parks to extend the season, set to have started on April 7th. SCI is meanwhile recommending clients contact their PHs to find a solution for each unique situation.
Given the long-lasting shock from coronavirus to the safari industry and local communities, it’s even more important that plans for the new hunt go on. Here’s a look back at how the decision was first made.
“Therisanô” and tlotlô.” These Setswana translations for “consultation” and “respect” are words you’ll hear often in Botswana and are integral to the traditions of open discussion and tribal decision-making. They also accurately describe the country’s recent process for reopening hunting. A media statement earlier this year by the government once again outlined their transparent decision.
First off, let’s be clear on a couple things. Botswana is home to well over 130,000 free-ranging elephants. Combined with Zimbabwe and the rest of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, this metapopulation represents the majority of all elephants in Africa. Almost 40% of the Botswana’s total land area is protected, a huge commitment to conservation and a rate most Western nations can’t imagine ever achieving.
Secondly, there was never a hunting “ban” as the media tells you. Convinced of the potential for photo tourism to replace the consumptive use of wildlife, the previous administration instituted a suspension of hunting on public lands in 2014 renewed annually by executive order during Ian Khama’s term. While some species populations were declining at the time, likely due to the growing elephant problem, elephants and the majority of other species were actually still increasing.
In those five years, elephant populations exploded beyond their historic range causing an unprecedented level of human-wildlife conflict. South of the world-famous Okavango Delta and Chobe enclave is one of the only areas in Africa where elephant range is actually expanding, unfortunately to the detriment of rural Batswana. These herds urgently need to be managed to within their ecological carrying capacity and social tolerance. Local communities are now facing new hardships as they’ve been deprived of revenue once brought in by international tourist hunting.
Last year, H.E. President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted the temporary moratorium. Long before Masisi’s announcement however, he established a Cabinet level Sub-Committee focused on social dialogue and began an extensive consultation process further implemented by the Ministry and Department. Masisi himself along with his government authorities have continued to defend their decision to the general public and disingenuous journalists.
“Masisi with his vision opened up consultation with the people most impacted, where Batswana were involved in expressing their concerns and given a voice for solutions. That goes way back into our cultural traditions. Both the ‘therisanô’ and ‘tlotlô’ values were implemented in this process” as the Botswana Ambassador to the United States Hon. David Newman put it at the 2020 SCI Convention. “Under President Masisi’s administration the policy frameworks, laws and economic programs put our people first and we don’t make any apology for that.”