I have been writing about wildlife and conservation for years, and one thing I have learned is that if you want controversy, write about elephants or safari hunting. Now, I am wondering what would happen if I wrote about both at the same time.
Opinion by Wisdom Mdzungairi
I can’t help it, after neighbouring Botswana, one of the world’s most diverse bio-diverse countries, recently became the first African country, and only the second in the world, to ban hunting as a sport in an edict which came directly from that country’s leader Ian Khama.
The decree, which will be effective from January 1, 2014, stated that the shooting of wild game for sport and trophies was no longer compatible with “our commitment to preserve local fauna”.
So much for a country that has fought against banning hunting since 1989 when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) suspended ivory trade to contain elephant poaching along the Zambezi Valley.
When Cites banned hunting, it argued the sport made the species’ extinction a real near-term threat resulting in hugely reduced key species populations in Africa.
Last Monday, Costa Rica also became the first Latin American nation to ban hunting as a sport in a unanimous vote on the Wildlife Conservation Bill in Congress. President Laura Chinchilla is expected to sign the new Bill into law. The law “will allow us to live in peace with other living things that share our planet”, said assembly president Victor Emilio Granadas.
Arturo Carballo, deputy director at Apreflofas, an environmentalist organisation behind the reform, said: “I believe this is a message we give to future generations, that an activity like sport hunting is not a sport, but a cruelty. There is no data on how much money hunting generates in the country, but we do know there are currently clandestine hunting tours that go for about $5 000 per person.”
But, Khama’s ban will still allow for the indigenous people to continue hunting wild game as they have in the past. Some tribes, such as the legendary Kalahari Bushmen, have lived off the land for centuries and a complete ban would be a direct threat to their traditional way of life. However, over the course of 2013, Botswana will begin issuing less and less hunting permits to foreign visitors as commercial hunts come to an end.
Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have fought the 176 Cites member states to lift the ban so that they could sustainably utilise their abundant wildlife resources. As a result, the four nations were twice allowed once-off sales of their ivory stock piles. The moratorium ends in 2018.
For instance, Zimbabwe’s Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) has benefited scores of communities living alongside the wildlife resource. This Campfire project has been replicated in most of Africa and has been vaunted as hugely a success in the region.
I am sure if the local industry was vibrant, there is no doubt that a variety of firms could benefit from sport hunting. In Zimbabwe, its neighbours and Tanzania, it is estimated that a safari hunter spends 50 to 100 times that of the average eco-tourist.
So villagers living alongside animal range areas in remote areas often make their livelihoods from big game hunting with most hunters travelling from the West to bag their prize.
It remains to be seen whether Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa will also ban hunting. There is no doubt that the influx of hunters to Botswana has played a key role in that country’s economy as much as it has done in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, and the revenue may not be easy to replace, particularly at a local level.
While the average photographic tourist may seek luxury accommodation, the average safari hunter generally stays in tented camps. Safari hunters are also more likely to use remote areas, uninviting to the typical eco-tourist. Hunting advocates argue that these hunters allow for anti-poaching activities and revenue for local communities.
It must be borne in mind that tourism plays a vital role in the economy as well. So banning hunting may in itself help government to more than make up for the loss in revenue by promoting the country as an outstanding safari destination. With 130 000 elephants representing roughly a third of the world’s population, Botswana certainly has some fantastic natural resources with which to lure visitors. It has the biggest elephant population in the world and Zimbabwe is second with just above 100 000, while both Namibia and South Africa have less than 20 000.
The mere fact that Botswana has banned hunting means Sadc regional countries must brace for a big fight against animal protectionist groups at the next Cites conference where a total ban on hunting could be imposed on all endangered species in Africa.