Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Citizens side-lined as first elephant auction nets millions

The Botswana government on late Friday opened itself to another fresh round of criticism following the first of many planned hunting licences auctions that target elephants, seen as a problem in the landlocked country that is home to the world’s largest elephant population, estimated at over 130,000.

The auction was carried out in Gaborone, controlled by a local company Auction IT under the instructions of the government to sell seven packages of 10 elephants, bringing the total number of the animals to be killed at 70. However, according to Bloomberg reports, which had access to some of the auction details which were closed off to the public and media, only 60 elephants will be killed.

According to the leaked details, a single elephant went for an average $43,000 or P468,000, which meant the package made up of 10 elephants were auctioned for as much as P4.7 million. Only one package was not sold because it could not meet the government’s minimum reserve price of P2 million, Bloomberg reported. Bidding was open to “companies that are either owned by Botswana citizens or are registered in Botswana”, with participants forking P200,000 to be part of the auction.

After splurging between P3.8 to P5 million on hunting rights, the buyers who are usual professional hunters will in turn sell the hunting licences to wealthy tourists, mainly from USA, who are known to pay for as much as $80,000 or P872,000 just to hunt down a single elephant. The cost to hunt does not even include other charges such as accommodation, and hunts are known to take more than two weeks. The 2020 hunting season is expected to start in April.

The rationale for lifting the 2015 hunting ban was to reduce the human wildlife conflict that appeared to be reaching a crisis, with elephants venturing in new territories, wreaking havoc in planting fields and sometimes killing people. But this has been met by fierce criticism, mostly from outside conservationist, who accused the country of taking the easiest and most profitable option instead of a more sustainable approach.

Though the government plans to issue 400 hunting rights each year, they have since issued a quota for the killing of 272 of the animals this year, of which foreign hunters will be allowed to shoot 202 elephants and export trophies. Critics have also said the number of the quota is low to have an impact on reducing human wildlife conflict as the over 130,000 elephants are said to grow five percent each year, a figure greater than the quota.

Based on the latest auction results in which a single elephant fetched P468,000, if the government goes ahead and auction all the 272 hunting rights, it could rake in P127.3 million. The lifting of the hunting ban also coincides with a period when the government is running massive deficits and looking at other ways to bolster the country’s revenues. However, some fear that killing elephants for trophies has not only opened the country to tourism boycott, but it has opened the country to new incidence of poaching.

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