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Citing growing human-animal conflict, Botswana in southern Africa has lifted its ban on elephant hunting. Surveys show that their travelling range has increased due to factors like drought and climate change, leading to tensions in rural areas. While cutting across farmlands, the usually gentle creatures are destroying crops, hurting livestock and sometimes even killing people.
"The number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing," said the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, in a statement justifying the move. They added that measures would be taken to ensure hunting resumes in an ‘orderly and ethical manner’.
President Ian Khama had placed the restriction on elephant hunting in 2014, furthering Botswana’s reputation for conservation. At about 130,000 the country has the world’s largest elephant population. But in a much condemned move, a committee set up by successor Mokgweetsi Masisi last year recommended allowing hunting again. Khama, too, criticised the decision.
Many worry that opening up this last refuge could hamper tourism revenue—Botswana’s primary source of income after diamond mining. Some feel the move is political. Rural voters suspect elephant populations are on the rise, and the renewal could help Masisi secure a vote bank ahead of elections in October.
Trackers on ground paint a different picture. "Since 2007 Africa has lost 144,000 elephants, primarily due to the ivory poaching crisis. Each year we are losing nearly 30,000 elephants,” said Dr Mike Chase from Elephants Without Borders, Botswana.
However, he empathised with those facing the brunt of damage. With the lack of a peaceful alternative, rural communities desire some positive contribution from the income generated through sport hunting.
The recently concluded Great Elephant Census supports Chase’s alarming trajectory. According to the survey, only 352,271 African savanna elephants remain across 18 countries, showing a 30 per cent decline in seven years. Majority of areas show declining populations, and at this rate, half of the remaining pachyderms in Africa could disappear within a decade.
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