What a powerful name for the world’s greatest land animal.
Today, the landlocked, small southern African country of Botswana, with a little over a million people took arguably the biggest decision in living memory (or mine anyway) regarding how it manages its own wildlife.
This is an arid country, with an average rainfall of 440mm, less than half the world’s average. It is dependent on exporting some of the world’s best diamonds, hugely reliant on beef exports and in particular, exporting its ecotourism experience as it showcases the world’s greatest wetland – the Okavango Delta. But the cross it has to bear is the unenviable task of managing a natural behemoth. A monster that consumes 26 000 (twenty-six thousand) tons, or 58 000 000 (fifty-eight million) pounds of foliage a day!
This is the herd of Botswana’s African elephants and Africa’s largest by miles. Conservatively speaking at 130 000 animals – number many questions being too low, they consume 200kg of leaves and grass, each …a day!
Some of the variables and factors this country has had to grapple with include:
- Listening to, consulting with, empathizing, working out how to compensate the rural communities who have the ongoing challenge of the human-wildlife conflict to deal with. These beasts raid and destroy their crops and livelihoods and when working with and for the safari operators in the remote rural areas – they stood to benefit from this challenging dilemma. They are at the centre of where this is all happening.
- Pleasing photo tourists who want to experience these beasts up close and personal on foot, on a boat or on the back of a land cruiser and seldom understand the concept of sustainable utilization or the challenges of human-wildlife conflict.
- Keeping ivory poachers away as they’ll do anything to satisfy the demand for illegal ivory markets, particularly when they have no resistance.
- Hunters who are prepared to pay handsomely for a limited number of trophy bull elephants each year through operators that manage the more remote areas not utilized by tourists.
- A lucrative side industry from the management of elephant numbers, call it culling. This benefits thousands of local inhabitants with arguably one of the purest forms of a renewable, sustainable utilization of resources, that after all is theirs.
- Animal rightists who want zero hunting anywhere – let alone in Botswana. They start petitions and campaign for eco-tourists to boycott Botswana should they opt to lift its ban on hunting.
- Photographic safari operators, who are disguised animal rightists, working with National Geographic of all companies, who want everything on their terms and even went into business with the ex-President as a tactic to close down hunting and are still today, very powerful eco-tourism players.
- You have ‘editors’ and journalists bringing out books, one most recently called the Last Elephant – (as if these animals are on the verge of extinction) that conveniently sideline Namibia’s elephant success story who coincidently work with communities in an even drier country with way less elephant to manage and it is prospering.
All this is happening while there is a tsunami of international pressure, from ‘Conservation bodies,’ interested groups, countries, politicians, celebrities, all seeking their moment in the sun – around a topic they know nothing, at worse, or very little at best, about.
This is a Botswana problem – not a global, African, or a southern African problem.
And so, as the press conference starts at 1400 on the 23rd of May 2019, explaining why they have lifted the ban on hunting elephant, I salute this great country.
What a bold decision, taken for the right reasons, in the face of such adversity. What a lesson for us all.
Click here to view the letter of The Botswana Lifting of Ban