Sunday, June 16, 2024

Queen Elizabeth could deal blow to Botswana’s safari hunting

The Animal Welfare Bill which Queen Elizabeth II is expected to announce in her next speech to the British Parliament, could spell doom for a tourism sector that President Mokgweetsi Masisi is trying to revive. British media is reporting that the Bill will propose to ban the import of trophies by wild animal hunters. In economic terms, that is bad news for Botswana, especially for communities in wildlife management areas that literally made a killing when Masisi lifted the ban on hunting last year.

There is a select group of mostly western tourists who visit Botswana to hunt big game like lions and elephants, then hack off the heads and take them back home as trophies. On that list would be former Spanish king, Juan Carlos, who had to be airlifted out of the Okavango Delta in 2012 after he sustained a hip injury during an ill-fated lion hunt. With Masisi having re-opened hunting, communities in wildlife management areas are once more making money from wildlife that they auction to big-pocketed hunters. Earlier this year, Sunday Standard reported that residents of Kazungula, Lesoma and Pandamatenga made P7 million from the sale of a variety of game. For this year, the three Chobe villages were given a quota of 10 elephants, 10 zebra, 10 warthogs, 5 buffalo, 2 eland, 2 kudu, 2 leopard, 5 baboons and 20 impala. All were auctioned off on March 17 this year at the Chobe District Council chamber in Kasane through a joint body (KALEPA Trust) whose name comes that of the three villages.

The Trust contracted the services of professional auctioneers from Gaborone, Kgale Auctioneers, to conduct the sale. However, those who bought the animals couldn’t immediately go on the hunt because hunting has been suspended due to COVID-19.Popular targets for British trophy hunters include big cats, hippos, zebras and monkeys. If the Animal Welfare Bill gains passage in the House of Commons, trophies would no longer be allowed into Britain. Resultantly, the number of trophy hunters from Britain into Botswana would drop precipitously and the earnings of trusts like KALEPA would shrink. In one respect, the Bill is a direct result of fierce opposition to trophy hunting in the west. This opposition takes the form of lobby groups pressurizing their governments to ban trophies from coming into their respective countries. In the particular case of Britain, among those opposed to trophy hunting is someone who literally has the prime minister’s ear – Carrie Symonds, who is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s fiancée.

Interestingly, someone who anticipated a development of this nature now happens to be in a place and position where he may be part of counter-lobbying effort by Botswana. Last year, when Sunday Standard interviewed him on a planned boycott by westerners who were unhappy with Masisi lifting the ban on hunting, Professor Joseph Mbaiwa was the Director of the University of Botswana’s Okavango Research Institute in Maun. While he dismissed the nascent campaign to boycott Botswana’s tourism as a non-starter, he however cautioned that the country should nonetheless “worry much” about countries like the United States and Britain banning import wildlife products. His fears may have been realised because the Animal Welfare Bill in the Queen’s Speech seeks to do exactly that. What he suggested was that the Botswana government should “make our position known to the British government and to the US Fisheries & Wildlife Services to make our position known and accepted.”

Now Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism and given his experience on this matter, Mbaiwa would be in a position to make Botswana’s position known to the British government. In September 2018, he   made a presentation to the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory body to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. As a civil servant, Mbaiwa would now be constrained in terms of what he can say publicly. He had no such constraints last year when Sunday Standard asked him whether Botswana should continue to over-rely on a turbulent market like that of the west where commerce is often at the mercy of overboard activism. We also asked him whether Botswana should expand its tourism market outside the west. The answer to the latter was in the affirmative and in elaborating on it, Mbaiwa used the binary classification for a global socio-economic and political divide: “Global North” being the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan as well as Australia and New Zealand and “Global South” being Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia including the Middle East.

“The challenge has always been the fact that the Global North always wants to dictate on what the Global South should do and I feel it’s not okay. We are sovereign states in the Global South and we should be allowed to make decisions about our wildlife and our future,” he said .As regards expansion of the tourism market outside the west, Mbaiwa recommended Asia (notably China) which he said has a “big market” for Botswana’s wildlife products. “I think time has come for Botswana to work on that market. I am aware of the bad reputation the Asian market currently has on the world stage. However, I think things can be legalized and have the markets open again.” Another course of action that Mbaiwa recommended was educating the west on the fact that Botswana’s hunting is geared towards conservation and doesn’t amount to massacre of wildlife. He then stated something that he may have to prepare to do as Queen Elizabeth herself prepares to set a legislative agenda for the coming year.

“We can still go out there and campaign in the west that our hunting is not a massacre of wildlife but is conservation hunting,” Mbaiwa said. “Hunting can be a management tool. Our hunting is selective, we target old males, we have wildlife quotas and we do not hunt breeding animals. In addition, we have hunting seasons. We want to manage human wildlife conflicts and ensure that communities in wildlife areas co-exist with wildlife and conserve the same resources.” The Queen’s Speech is an event in which the reigning sovereign reads a prepared speech that outlines the government’s agenda and focus for the forthcoming session of parliament. While read from the throne, the speech is actually prepared by the ministers in cabinet. This year’s is expected this or next month.

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