Gov’t Rubbishes EWB’s Elephant Population Report

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Elephants Without Borders report says elephant numbers are no longer growing rapidly in Botswana

Acting Permanent Secretary maintains that elephant population has gone up, as per the KAZA survey

He criticises Elephants Without Borders for repeatedly being negative towards Botswana’s conservation story

He dismisses the report as a calculated stance to discredit Botswana’s outstanding conservation prowess

Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Boatametse Modukanele has rubbished findings in the recently released report by Elephant Without Boarders (EWB), which suggest that the elephant population in Botswana is not growing but instead remains stable.

The Technical Review of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area released by EWB contradicts government’ stance that the country’s elephant numbers had exploded therefore making hunting a necessary tool to control the growth.

In an interview, Modukanele however emphasised that the recent KAZA Elephant Survey released in August last year, had clearly shown that the elephant figures have gone up. He argued that there is no question about those findings.  He added that the survey which focused on Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, and Zimbabwe was conducted at the same time to ensure that there is no double counting.

He criticised EWB’s reports for always being negative towards Botswana’s conservation story, and seem to be a calculated move to discredit government.

In 2014 the former president Ian Khama’s administration issued a ban on hunting of wildlife in all controlled hunting areas in Botswana after research surveys conducted by Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders reported that the country is experiencing a decline in wild animal species. EWB said the cause of the decline was likely due to a combination of factors such as anthropogenic impacts, including illegal offtake and habitat fragmentation or loss.

“Sometimes they say their own opinions rather than what is factual. These reports are always negative towards Botswana’s conservation story. According to them, we are failing and there is no visible thing that we are doing. But the reality on the ground is that we are regarded as among the best in terms of wildlife conservation in the world,” he said.

However, the report by EWB differs, arguing that elephant populations in northern Botswana have changed little since 2010. In fact, it suggests that for the core areas surveyed since 2010, the population fell slightly though non-significantly through 2022.

The survey says despite the evidence of a stable elephant population since 2010, the government of Botswana has claimed that the population is growing at 6% per year.

“Our simulations, however, showed clearly that we can reject population growth rates ≥2% per year since 2010. For 2018- 2022, population growth rates cannot have been ≥4.6% per year. The wider range of possible values for r in 2018 reflects the shorter time span of the analysis. Change in population over 23 years is relatively small, even at high r values.” It stresses that elephant numbers are no longer growing rapidly in Botswana.

While at that, the survey also claims that carcass ratios have been increasing in Botswana since EWB’s first survey in 2010. According to it, the combination of flat population growth and rising carcass ratios, now exceeding 8% on both the 2018 and 2022 surveys, may be a sign that elephant mortality is on the rise in Botswana.

“The fresh carcass ratio was essentially unchanged between 2018 and 2022, but 2018 was near the peak of a poaching outbreak that we documented in Botswana. If population health was improving, we would have expected lower fresh carcass ratios,” it argued adding that in 2022, Botswana’s fresh carcass ratio was the highest of any of the 10 regions on the KAZA survey.

EWB stressed that after elephant hunting resumed in Botswana in 2019, elephant numbers decreased by 25% in areas with hunting while increasing by 28% in protected areas where hunting is forbidden.

“The recent changes in Botswana are all in a negative direction” said Michael Chase, co-author on the new report and executive director of EWB. “After decades of growing numbers, the elephant population is flat now. And numbers of elephant carcasses are growing, meaning that elephants may be dying at an unsustainable rate. The new evidence of poaching that we’re seeing-56 freshly killed elephants in just 3 months-is especially worrisome.”

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