By Barbara Crown
It is critical that the Conservation Conversation always include people as much as it does wildlife. This was the overarching message from Botswana Minister of Environment Natural Resources and Conservation and Tourism Onkokame Kitso Mokaila during today’s press conference on lifting the five-year suspension on hunting in that country.
Since the moratorium on hunting in Botswana’s government and community areas, Mokaila says that populations of key species have expanded beyond traditional ranges and into areas where they have never been seen before. An escalation in human-wildlife conflicts is only one consequence of that expansion. A less quantifiable result is that communities that were previously conservation minded have become almost anti-wildlife.
“We thank the President of Botswana and all others involved in Botswana for their forward thinking and having the courage to bypass doing what is easy in order to do what is right for the benefit of the wildlife of Botswana and the people of Botswana,” said SCI President Paul Babaz. “Botswana’s wisdom in this matter is a valuable example for the entire world. They need to be able to manage their own wildlife so that there WILL be more wildlife in wild places in harmony with the people for generations to come.”
Prior to the hunting suspension, communities felt they were part of the effort to manage and maintain wildlife. However, the decision to suspend hunting was made without the participation or input of the people living with wildlife.
Without the benefits of income from hunting, jobs in the hunting industry and meat derived from hunting, communities lost their commitment to wildlife. They now view wildlife as the property and responsibility of the government.
With the increased destruction of agriculture, lost grazing areas for cattle and the sharp rise in human deaths from wildlife encounters, communities no longer participate in protecting that wildlife. Poaching activities are on the rise, and communities that previously reported these activities no longer share information that would prevent poaching or help capture poachers.
For these reasons, Mokaila says that reinstating hunting in Botswana’s government and community areas is more about incentivizing people to help manage wildlife than about controlling wildlife numbers. Hunting is a management tool, says Mokaila, that will compensate communities for living with wildlife and help move wildlife out of areas where they conflict with people.
Hunting will never be used to reduce wildlife numbers, he says. Addressing reports in the general media about approved culls, the minister said, “Botswana has never used culling practices and we are not going to cull now. Those reports are false.”
While it will take a while yet for Botswana to organize and reimplement its hunting program, here are some points on their plans:
· All actions will be based on rule of existing wildlife law
· Implement a sustainable quota of fewer animals than those born each year
· All species listed as huntable species in Schedule 7 of the Botswana Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act will be huntable again, including leopard and lion.
· Open hunting only in areas away from and not conducive to photographic areas; also, in areas where there is wildlife/human conflict.
· Create buffer zones around community areas to help keep dangerous wildlife out of human developments
· Bring back hunting concessions, with a 25 percent shareholding scheme with the communities and long leases of up to 30 years. Concessions may also be smaller.
· Remodel the Community Based Natural Resource Management program to give communities more benefits and incentivize increased management.
You can watch the entire press conference yourself on Facebook at BWgovernment.