The recent decision by the Botswana government lift a ban on elephant hunting imposed in 2004 is a step backward in the conservation of the threatened species. Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s declaration has shocked conservationists across the world amid fears the move could trigger the jumbo’s road to extinction.
Africa is now home to just 415,000 elephants, according to World Wildlife Fund. The animals are predominantly killed for ivory. A head count in 2016 covering 93 per cent of the jumbo population in 18 countries revealed 380,000 elephants. Yet, 100 years ago, there were five million elephants in Africa!
By 1979, the numbers had dropped to 1.3 million, 50 per cent of which were killed between 1979 and 1989. This prompted to a global ivory trade ban in 1989 when there were only 600,000 elephants.
Today, Botswana hosts more than 130,000 jumbos, nearly a third of Africa’s population. The country says the animals are a threat to people, destroying crops and property. Another reason given for lifting the ban is that the country needs funds for conservation.
Conservationists believe the move will unleash another season for the rapid decline in elephant numbers. The decision could damage Botswana’s international reputation for conservation and affect its revenues from tourism, the second largest source of foreign income after diamond.
Thankfully, most African countries agree the jumbo is an endangered species. However, other southern African countries with large jumbo populations, notably Zimbabwe and Namibia have also made calls to lift the hunting ban. Already, Zimbabwe is selling live elephants to earn foreign exchange in open markets. Nearly 100 elephants have been sold to the Middle East and China since last year.
The danger is that once elephant hunting resumes, global trade in ivory will explode, particularly in Asian countries. This means poaching will resume aggressively, especially in war-torn countries such as DR Congo, South Sudan, Chad and Cameroon.
Conservationists should now support African governments to protect jumbos, for instance, by moving them to safer places in the continent. Allowing hunting must not be an option for any government.
It’s worth noting that more than 60 million tourists visit Africa annually to see wildlife and other attractions, earning the continent billions of dollars and creating much needed employment. Africa must protect this endangered but gentle species.