A Population Management Strategy For Elephants

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There seems to be frustration on the part of communities living in wildlife areas and the Botswana government on what to do with the ever-increasing numbers of elephants in the country. Some have proposed the culling of elephants while some are calling for translocation. In March 2024, the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Hon Dumezdweni Mthimkhulu threatened to send 10,000 elephants to Hyde Park in London so the UK could “have a taste of living alongside them”.

In April 2024, President HE Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi also threatened to send 20,000 elephants to Germany. These are indications of frustrations by the country’s leadership when it comes to handling the elephant population in Botswana and having to live with elephants in the country.

Elephants are found predominantly in northern Botswana with a small but significant population occurring in eastern Botswana in the Bobirwa area. More recently elephants have moved further south and established themselves within the Central Kalahari Game Reserve where their impact on vegetation is becoming increasingly conspicuous around the permanent waterpoints found within that protected area.

Botswana has the largest elephant population on the African continent numbering around 132,000 in northern Botswana in the area considered to be part of KAZA. If add elephants in other parts of the country such as in Tuli Block, Mmadinare area, Central Khalahari Game Reserve and other parts of the central District, the numbers are going to be higher. It is estimated that an additional 10 000 to 15 000 elephants is a good estimate. This means Botswana might be having over 150 000 elephants.

There is evidence the high population of elephants in Botswana has caused major problems for subsistence farmers and the natural environment within the country. Elephant and human conflicts in the form crop-raiding, damage to water supply infrastructure, and fence damage by elephants, have been shown to be on the rise.

Elephants have also been known for uprooting and debarking trees in natural areas and attacking other wildlife in national parks. They are also known to break fences and destroy community lands outside of parks. In the Chobe area northern Botswana, highly concentrated elephant populations have caused a loss of biodiversity an entire ecosystem change.

The increase in human-elephant conflict and further degradation of natural areas are clear justifying cases for the government consider a population management strategy for elephants. Of the methods that can be used to maintain elephant population at a sustainable number, culling and translocation are the two most plausible in Botswana.

Culling used to be a common practice in Kruger National Park in neighbouring South Africa but was stopped due to strong international pressure in 1995 after significant reductions in elephant populations caused by poaching were recorded in other parts of Africa. Lately, the negative impact of elephants on habitats and other animal species is one of the key considerations for the resumption of culling elephants in South Africa.

Botswana has so far translocated or proposed to translocate elephants to neighbouring Mozambique, Namibia, and Angola. While culling is frowned upon generally by the international community, translocation is an expensive process. It is from this background that Botswana should develop a population management strategy for elephants, the sooner the better. I am aware of the existing Elephant Management Plan and Action Plan (2021-2026) as well as its shortcomings when it comes to elephant population management.

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