How Rural Livelihoods Were Compromised in Botswana


Hunter Proud Foundation: Duplicity and Deceit: How Rural Livelihoods Were Compromised in Botswana.

By Zig Mackintosh

An interesting paper was published in the South African Geographical Journal in March, 2017. “The effects of the safari hunting tourism ban on rural livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Northern Botswana” was written by Joseph E. Mbaiwa from the Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana.

This paper examines the effects of the safari hunting ban of 2014 on rural livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Northern Botswana, using the social exchange theory (SET). Basically,

SET follows the premise that humans strive for a positive outcome, maximizing benefits and minimizing costs, when engaging in a transaction. To calculate the value of a relationship, costs are subtracted from benefits. If benefits outweigh costs, it’s a positive relationship. Conversely, when the costs are greater than the benefits, it’s a negative result. When SET is applied to conservation and livelihoods, net benefits will foster positive attitudes towards tourism. If local people are actively involved in wildlife management and benefit economically from participation, then wildlife will be conserved as community welfare improves. Remove or reduce the benefits, and the outcomes will turn negative.

An aerial wildlife census was completed in 2011 by the NGO, Elephants Without Borders. The researchers concluded that wildlife populations in Botswana had been decimated by hunting, poaching, human encroachment, habitat fragmentation, drought, and veld fires. They reported that 11 species numbers had declined by an average of 61% since a 1996 survey. This included ostrich: a 95% decline; wildebeest: 90%; tsessebe: 84%; warthog and kudu: 81%, and giraffe 66%. The Botswana Government cited the census results as the key factor that led to the safari hunting ban across the country in January 2014. Plains-game hunting on private land was still permitted.

Prior to implementing the ban, the Government consulted with stakeholders such as local communities in wildlife areas, tourism operators, researchers, academics, conservationists, scientists and the Botswana hunters’ association through workshops and public meetings. NGOs such as the Kalahari Conservation Society and Ngamiland Council of Non-Governmental Organizations were also included in the consultations. There was significant opposition to a hunting ban at these meetings. Academics criticized the Elephant Without Borders findings as being flawed. They argued that the study was just a snapshot, and that knowledge of long-term wildlife trends or time series data on wildlife populations in Botswana were a prerequisite before a decision on a ban could be made. The ban was, nevertheless, imposed.

In his paper Mbaiwa goes on to quantify the loss of revenue and jobs to local communities after the ban was effected. It was calculated that safari hunting generated 15% of tourism revenues from only 1% of tourist arrivals, making it one of the lowest impact forms of tourism in Botswana. At its peak, hunting in Botswana generated more than US $20 million annually, more than US $6 million of which was hunting license revenue that went directly to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Between 2006–2009, safari hunting generated US $ 3 120 000 for rural communities, while photographic tourism generated only US $ 415 000. Of this, 49.5% of revenue from the safari hunting industry is used in the local district, 25.7% at the national level and only 24.8% was being paid overseas mainly in the form of agents’ commissions and profits. Conversely, only 27% of photographic tourism revenue is being retained within Botswana, while the rest is leaked outside the country. Over 600 jobs were lost and 4 800 livelihoods affected. Photographic operations have not picked up the slack in marginal areas because these areas are not suited to photo-tourism. Community projects such as the construction of houses for the needy, funeral insurance, scholarships and household dividends have dried up.

The loss of protein in the form of meat from the hunted animals is substantial. In the last 5 years prior to the hunting ban each community was allocated a total of 22 elephants or 154 tonnes of meat per annum, this in addition to the meat from other animals hunted such as buffalo. The communities were permitted to sell any excess meat and in one area alone, Sankoyo, $600,000 was realized from meat sales in 2010.

So, as per social exchange theory, it follows that when the costs are greater than the benefits, the outcomes turn negative. Human-wildlife conflict has increased appreciably, and the nationwide reports rose from 4 361 in 2012 to 6 770 in 2014. Poaching is on the rise and is having a significant impact on wildlife populations.


There is no scientific study that has so far proved that safari hunting in Botswana was carried out on an unsustainable basis to warrant a ban in 2014. On the contrary, there is evidence that safari hunting in Botswana was regulated, particularly through the quota system, to promote sustainability.

The safari hunting ban represents a retrogressive step and a top-down imposition that contradicts the goals of conservation and rural development which the Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) program was established to achieve. The ban is reducing huge benefits generated by communities from safari hunting.

Lessons need to be learned from past experiences. Kenya banned hunting in 1977. Between 1977 and 1996, Kenya experienced a 40% decline in wildlife populations, both within and outside of its national parks, due primarily to poaching. Kenya’s wildlife numbers have continued to fall, with wildlife numbers today being less than half of that which existed before the ban. Similarly, the 2001–2003 ban on safari hunting in Zambia resulted in an upsurge in poaching due to the removal of incentives for conservation.

Why do we have to keep re-inventing the wheel? As shown in this paper, sustainable consumptive utilization works. The keyboard conservationists spouting their shrill alarmism should be ignored and left to themselves in their social media cesspool groups. Wildlife management must be left to the wildlife managers on the ground in Africa.