‘UK Hunting Trophy Ban Bill Misinformed’

Date:

A Botswana delegation to Europe, was this week in London to provide a factual front about the country’s conservation story, which include in depths on hunting as a   sustainable conservation tool. This as the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill which seeks to ban the importation of legally obtained wildlife trophies from Botswana and other African countries goes for the second reading in UK’s house of Lords today (March 23). The delegation – led by Environment and Tourism minister Dumezweni Mthimkhulu shared with members of the British upper parliament – House of the Lords the direct benefits communities living in areas with wild animals received from the proceeds of trophy hunting that sustain their livelihoods. They also catalogued the dangers of the bill, should it pass – to the livelihoods of these communities which continue to be disrupted by wild animals and to conservation. Besides the address by the minister to the MPs, to lobby them not to support the bill, renowned Professor of Tourism Studies at the Okavango Research Institute of the University of Botswana Professor Joseph Mbaiwa gave a public Lecture about the bill’s implications to conservation and livelihoods in Botswana at Oxford University. The delegation also includes Batawana Paramount Chief  Kgosi Tawana Moremi II, senior government officials, conservation experts and academics, members of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and the media.

The Botswana Government and local communities living in wildlife areas are currently protesting to the British Parliament about the potential of the UK passing a bill that prohibits trophy imports from Botswana and other Southern African states known as KAZA countries from entering the UK.

The UK is Party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of wild animals and plants, their products (such as animal skins) and derivatives (such as food or medicine).

The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill seeks to ban the importation of legally obtained wildlife trophies from Botswana and other African countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nambia, Tanzania and South Africa. It is going for the second reading in the House of Lords on March 23, 2024. 

For Botswana, the European Union trophy hunting market including the UK comprises of 30% while the USA market is the largest at 70%. In this regard, the British trophy hunting market for Botswana is big and cannot ignored by both the Botswana Government and communities living in wildlife areas. The big question therefore is if this Bill passes at the House of Lords, what are the implications to conservation and rural livelihoods.

If this Bill can pass, it will compromise the livelihoods of rural communities living in wildlife areas. As a result, both the Botswana Government and rural communities are opposed to the Bill mainly because of the following: i) anticipated loose of income, ii) loose of jobs, iv) loose of community development projects, v) preference of both photographic and trophy hunting as sustainable land use options that complement each other etc.

Conversely, animal rights groups who are currently influence British MPs to pass note that if the Bill pass, this will contribute to the conservation of wildlife species in Africa especially those which are threatened. While this is the case, research has established that most of the species targeted have populations that are stable, increasing, or abundant. In addition, trophy hunting is not a major threat to any of the 73 species or subspecies imported to the UK.

The Bill is ill-advised and dangerous to wildlife conservation and livelihoods of people living in wildlife areas in Botswana and Southern Africa. It fails to adequately consider the benefits of trophy hunting to local communities in wildlife areas, particularly its role in sustaining livelihoods. Most communities in wildlife areas especially those in northern Botswana have Community Based Organisations (CBOs) or Trusts.

These Trust generate income through hunting and this income is used in community projects, employment opportunities and reinvestment into other tourism activities such as lodges, campsites etc. In 2022/23, a total of 7,056 people were employed by CBOs. Every government and economy in the world are concerned about employment opportunities in a country. Still in 2022/23, a total of P134,176,165.20 (USD 9, 874,221.24) was generated by CBOs from concession fees, camping, hunting, quota fees, land rentals and related enterprises of which P31,278,416 (USD 2,301,824.61) was generated from hunting alone from quota.

The proposed Bill does not take these contributions of trophy hunting to the lives of marginalised communities in rural Botswana hence it has the potential to cause more harm than good not only to the livelihoods of the people but to the species it is intended to protect. In relation to conservation, the Social Exchange Theory argues that communities are likely to participate and promote wildlife conservation if they derive more benefits that costs from wildlife resources. This means, if the Bill passes and Botswana loses the European market, communities might not be obliged to protect the wildlife species the Bill is intending to protect. The Bill thus fails to appreciate that trophy hunting in Botswana protecting land from conversion to agriculture; provides resources to prevent poaching in the country; directly result in income and employment opportunities for local communities; and enhance population growth for threatened species.

The Bill fails to appreciate that Botswana has a strong legislative framework governing wildlife conservation. Such include: the Wildlife Conservation Policy of 2013, Tourism Policy of 2021, CBNRM Policy of 2007, Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act of 1992 and an effective institutional approach in the form of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the BDF Anti-Poaching unit etc.

This legislative and institutional framework has resulted in Botswana sustaining a healthy wildlife population in the country. The Bill further fails to appreciate efforts made by Botswana to achieve conservation since the country has set aside a total of 40% of its land for conservation. That is, Botswana has designated 17% of its surface area as National Parks and Game Reserves, an additional 22% of Botswana’s land is designated as Controlled Hunting Areas and 1% is designated as forest reserves.

In total, Botswana has reserved 40% of its land reserved for wildlife conservation. Because of these conservation by Botswana, some of the wildlife species have continued to expand and increase in population. For example, in 1990, Botswana had an estimated population of 50,000 to 60,000 elephants. In 2012, Chase (2012) reported that the numbers had escalated to 130,000 elephants. The KAZA Elephant Survey of 2022 reported that 58% or 132 182 of 227900 (±16743) elephants in the KAZA TFCA survey area were in Botswana. This Bill therefore fails to appreciate these conservation efforts by Botswana. Instead, it appeals like a punishment to the country for having achieved significantly in the conservation of wildlife resources.

The Bill also fails to appreciate that communities living in wildlife areas of Botswana are confronted with human wildlife conflicts which result in the following: Crop damage by wildlife especially from elephants and hippos, damage of livestock infrastructure by wildlife especially elephants, livestock predation by animals such as lions and other predators, human injuries and at times death by wildlife (e.g. elephants, hippos, crocodiles, lions/predators etc).

While this is the case, trophy hunting is in some areas used as a mitigation measure against these conflicts. In 2022 -23 financial year, a total of 11,938 cases of human wildlife conflicts were reported in Botswana. In the same period, a total of BWP26,014,680 (USD 824.612,301), paid as compensation. It is also estimated that a total of 80 people were injured and 57 were killed by the wildlife between the years 2009 and 2019.

In this regard, there is no where communities in Botswana will be obliged to promote conservation because the cost are high. The implications of enacting the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) bill could have far-reaching negative consequences on wildlife populations, exacerbate human-wildlife conflicts, undermine conservation efforts, and impact the livelihoods and well-being of communities residing in wildlife areas.

The Hunting Trophies  (Import Prohibition) Bill appears to have been informed by emotions of Animal Rights Groups, fake news, and unethical research such as that by Adam Cruise’s Report on the trophy hunting of elephants in Botswana’s Community-Based Natural Resource Management areas of 2023. However, public policy addressing biodiversity loss is most likely to be effective when it is informed by Science with appropriate evidence and considers potential unintended consequences. Public policy that addresses biodiversity loss requires context-specific solutions. As a result, the proposed ban on importing hunting trophies to the UK is disproportionate and may harm biodiversity.

While there are wildlife species in Botswana which are on the decline and endangered, there is equally a misconception in the western countries that trophy hunting in Botswana is destructive and uncontrolled. These misconceptions contribute to the misinformation recognised in this UK Bill. However, I would like to correct the misconception and state that hunting in Botswana is controlled and undertaken guided by the following scientifically tested approaches:

  • Hunting Quota – the Department of wildlife and National Parks decides on the annual hunting for each concession area in the country. This quota is decided based on existing ariel surveys of healthy species. In addition, Botswana observes requirements provided by CITES especially on elephant hunts e.g. Botswana is allowed to hunt 400 elephants annually by CITES. The 400 elephant figure is an insignificant and has not been proven to contribute to elephant decline nor does is indicate that elephant species in Botswana are in danger. Apparently, the opposite is happening in that Botswana has been able to sustainably use and manage its wildlife populations.

Selective hunting – hunting in Botswana is selective. That is, it targets those with healthy populations such as elephants and buffaloes. Species with lower numbers such as rhino are not hunting. In addition, hunting targets old males which are no longer productive. Breeding females and young animals are not hunting;

  • Buffer and Marginal Areas – Trophy hunting in Botswana is carried out in marginal areas which otherwise not profitable for photographic tourism. These marginal areas are peripheral and do not attract photo tourists. They also act as buffer zones between human settlements and wildlife areas;

Considering the above measures, it can be argued that Botswana has measures in place designed to achieve sustainable wildlife conservation in the country. Botswana acknowledges that trophy hunting is a land use option that supports conservation. In this regard, trophy hunting is carried out in marginal and peripherical areas while photographic is carried out in prime areas. These two land use options complement each other and support the sustainable use of wildlife resources in Botswana. A scenario which the UK Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill fails to appreciate.

The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill should learn experience from three case studies on what happens to wildlife conservation when a trophy hunting Ban is effected in an areas. These experiences include the following:

a) Trophy Hunting Ban in Kenya – 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 (Scott, 2013). Kenya’s wildlife numbers have continued to fall with wildlife numbers today being less than half of that which existed before the ban (Scott, 2013). Therefore, a ban on safari hunting does not necessarily halt decline in wildlife populations, instead it can escalate it.

b) Trophy Hunting Ban in the  Luangwa Valley, Zambia –   Lewis et al (1990) argues that  in the lessons in Zambia that  sought to halt the drastic loss of elephants and rhinos to poaching in and around protected areas in the Luangwa Valley indicates that the key things that brought in community benefits from wildlife were (1) Trophy hunting, (2) meat from hippo quotas to the community, and (3) employment as community scouts. When communities in the Luangwa Valley were benefiting from wildlife resources through their community project, consequences were a tenfold reduction in rhino and elephant poaching and improved attitudes to conservation. Chiefs in the area instructed their people to report any suspicious people in the area. This was an amazing success story. However, when Government banned trophy hunting in this area, the whole community project collapsed because of this ban on trophy hunting. The consequences were that rhino and elephant population were extirpated in the Luangwa valley.

c) Increased wildlife poaching in Botswana (2014-2019) – The hunting ban or suspension in Botswana between 2014 and 2019 resulted in increased poaching and human wildlife conflicts. For example, in 2014, there were 2,500 cases reported, by 2018, such cases had increased to 7500 and to 11,938 cases by 2022. Research has established that the hunting ban this period resulted in increased incidents of crop damage by wildlife, livestock predation, reduced benefits from wildlife by communities, increased negative attitudes by rural communities towards wildlife conservation. The lack of benefit from wildlife by communities laid down the foundation for poaching and indiscriminate wildlife killings (e.g. through wildlife poisoning). Better put, lack of benefits from wildlife resulted in increased incidents of poaching in Ngamiland, Chobe and Boteti. It was inconceivable that 4000 wild animals were being harvested illegally each year in Ngamiland District, and that 620,000 kg of bush meat was harvested annually from the Okavango Delta (Rogan et al. 2017). This was not good for the conservation of wildlife resources and tourism development.

The Kenyan trophy hunting ban story and that of the Zambian Luangwa Valley confirms arguments by Mwenya et al (1991) argue that successful wildlife conservation is an issue of “who owns wildlife” and “who should manage it”. As such, if local people view wildlife resources as “theirs” because they realize the benefits of “owning” wildlife resources and understand that wildlife management needs to be a partnership between them and the government, there is a higher potential for them to conserve wildlife species in their areas. As a result, Passing the Bill is going to reap severe unintended consequences for conservation by undermining the trophy hunting industry – the story will repeat itself!

Finally, it should be noted that trophy hunting is a management/conservation tool when applied appropriately with the knowledge of wildlife populations. Conversely, poor science, including emotions in decision making and policy development may result in devasting results. It is from this background that I argue that the UK Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill is ill-advised and dangerous to wildlife conservation and livelihoods in Botswana and Southern Africa. In this regard, it is my prayer the House of Lords in the UK should reject the Bill.

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