With the report on the hunting ban having been presented to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, it is almost certain that communities in wildlife-rich areas could soon be doing roaring business.
One such community is Pandamatenga in Chobe District which could reportedly make upwards of P10 million in a good hunting season. The Department of Wildlife and National Parks would award the village’s community’s trust a quota of 10 elephants. In turn, the trust would put the elephants on the market to the highest bidder, with one elephant going for as much as P1 million.
Pandamatenga’s traditional leader, Kgosi Rebecca Banika, says that with the money that it made from safari hunting, the trust was able to carry out a number of developments and purchases it otherwise would not have been able to carry out. One such purchase was a tractor whose ploughing services were rented out to the government, thus earning yet more money for the community. However, all that wind stopped falling in the final years of General Ian Khama’s presidency.
In 2011, a wildlife conservation NGO called Elephants Without Borders (EWB) concluded a wildlife statistics aerial survey following which its director, Dr. Mike Chase, raised the argument that wildlife populations in Botswana had been decimated by hunting, poaching, human encroachment, habitat fragmentation, drought, and veldt fires. By his account, some 11 species had declined by an average of 61 percent since a 1996 survey.
Solely on the basis of EWB’s findings, a campaign to ban hunting (featuring Khama as its chief salesman) began to gather pace. He touted the importance of non-consumptive tourism, telling a Maun kgotla meeting in 2013 that this type of tourism contributes more than 12 percent of overall GDP. He announced that there would be no hunting licences issued after 2013, and that all hunting in Botswana would end by 2014. When that happened, all the safari hunting concession areas in Botswana were converted to wildlife photographic tourism areas.
Banika says that for her own community, wildlife photographic tourism is a non-starter because tourists encounter animals they are supposed to pay to photograph on public roads and unprotected areas and thus don’t see the need to go to areas where they have to pay to photograph those animals.
Outside Khama’s inner circle, there is consensus that the switch to wildlife photographic tourism was a solution searching of a problem because safari hunting was serving low-income communities very well. A study by Professor Joseph Mbaiwa of the University of Botswana found that gains included positive attitudes towards wildlife conservation and decline in illegal hunting, increase in populations of some wildlife species and, improved livelihood of communities. The latter included greatly improved food and nutrition security because the poor were always given free meat while some of it was auctioned off.
The hunting ban caused community trusts to collapse and in some cases, become mired in debt. Banika says that in the particular case of Pandamatenga, the community trust’s tractor that had been making for the village had to be auctioned off last year.
On succeeding Khama last year, Masisi started a consultation process to solicit views on the hunting ban and there is very strong public sentiment as well as empirical evidence that the hunting ban was a grave mistake. In anticipation of a positive outcome, Pandamatenga has revived its community trust and is hoping for a return to the good old days. However, those days were not all good because often out of lack of managerial skill and unethical proclivity, the money was not put to good use. In some other cases, operational systems and processes were found wanting. Banika says that effort is in train to plug all those holes.