President Mokgweetsi Masisi must have breathed a sigh of relief when CNN gave him free publicity to air his views on the country’s conservation efforts.
Former President Ian Khama has always sought to sell Masisi to the West as naïve when it comes to conservation with a little help from his friends in the photo-tourism industry when a policy shift regarding wildlife mamagement came to bear under Masisi.
However, the country has experienced elephant deaths like no other in the past years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the African savanna elephant as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species which is in great numbers in Botswana.
Speaking with host Zain Asher, Masisi said: “We have the highest concentration of elephants in the wild in the world. Now if you tell me that didn’t come about because of concerted, deliberate and successful conservation, then give me a place more successful.”
Masisi was responding to Asher’s question. She had asked: “Botswana has the highest population of elephants in the world and one of the issues that your country has run into is that sometimes these elephants can roam to populated villages and farms. As a result, your government has issued licenses to kill about 287 elephants. When the conservation community and environmentalists react to that with concern, can you understand their perspective?”
The president added: “We didn’t conserve them so that we can brutalize them, and in Botswana, it’s not so much that sometimes an elephant will be in conflict with people. They do very frequently and if you know what it is like to encounter an elephant, usually the human being is the one that loses out.”
Botswana has issued nearly 300 elephant hunting licenses for the first trophy hunting season since a ban was lifted in 2019. Botswana has an estimated 130 000 savanna elephants thus being the last stronghold of the species in Africa. IUCN’s assessments highlighted a broadscale decline in African elephant numbers across the continent.
The number of African forest elephants fell by more than 86% over a period of 31 years, while the population of African savanna elephants decreased by at least 60% over the last 50 years.
Africa Geographic reports that figures on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) international trade database reveal that Botswana’s trophy hunting ban of seven years saved more than 2,000 elephants and 140 leopards from being shot.
Botswana’s status as a haven for the now Endangered savanna elephant is a porous one because the species has become vulnerable to not only poaching but even climate change. Last year, a mass die-off affected 330 elephants in the Delta due to toxins produced by cyanobacteria resided in the silt below the surface of waterholes used by elephants. A severe drought was believed to have led to the emergence of the neurotoxin. Botswana’s 135 000 elephants, considered the most any nation has, is a parade that has now become Endangered.