Thursday, October 1, 2020

To kill or not to kill- Parliament to decide on the fate of Botswana elephants

Just a few weeks before leaving office former Botswana president Lieutenant General Ian Khama slammed US President Donald Trump for the latter’s decision to lift the ban on elephant trophy hunting. 

Khama condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the decision by the Trump Administration to issue a memorandum stating that the US would start issuing permits for importation of elephant trophies from six African countries that included Botswana. He accused the US of undermining Botswana’s efforts by encouraging poaching in the process, saying they are well aware of legislation that prohibits trophy hunting in Botswana.  “How do you explain the import of elephant trophies from Botswana while we have a ban on hunting,” Khama said.

But barely three months into his retirement the new administration, under President Mokgweetsi Masisi, has all but validated Trump’s decision to lift the ban on import of elephant trophies. Recently the Member of Parliament for Maun East (known as ‘The Gateway to the Okavango Delta) presented a motion calling on the government to lift the four year standing ban on hunting. Presenting his motion, which enjoyed unanimous support from fellow members of parliament, Markus said while the ban was mainly informed by the decline in wildlife numbers at the time, there are new developments and factors that are motivating the proposal to lift the hunting ban.

The MP cited among others; increased elephants’ population and human-wildlife conflicts; reduced local benefits from tourism through Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) programme; and less benefits from photographic tourism since it is not viable in marginal hunting areas.

“Elephant population has increased to an extent that they are now found even in areas which were previously not common such as the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Ghanzi District, Kgalagadi District and many other villages in Botswana such as Nkange, Maitengwe, and Mmadinare,” Markus said. He said while Botswana is faced with a challenge of wildlife decline, it is not necessarily the case with all the wildlife species in the country. “For example, the elephant population in Botswana has been on the increase since 1992.As for now, we have approximately 237 000 elephants as compared to our carrying capacity of 50 000, because there is no hunting of elephants and elephants’ numbers have continued to increase.”

Conspiracy theorists believe the ban was done ostensibly due to the decline in animal population when the true motivation behind the ban lay in former President, Khama’s vested interest in photographic tourism. This theory is backed by the former President’s alleged business and social ties with ecotourism safari operator Wilderness Safaris, and award winning National Geographic Filmmaker Dereck Joubert.  Responding to the motion Minister of Tourism and former president Khama’s brother, Tshekedi Khama, said cabinet had recently agreed to a Presidential Sub-Committee that would consider the possibility of lifting the ban the decision which he said was something that was brought about because of the challenges that his ministry was facing.

Member of Parliament for Gaborone Bonnington South Ndaba Gaolathe sees great economic possibilities in the culling of elephants. “One of the potential opportunities or benefits here is that the culling could introduce a whole new sector of the elephant meat industry in a controlled way,” he argued. “This alone can open up opportunities in the meat manufacturing sector, meat export and related industries, including logistics.” He said while one of the things that inspired Minister of Tourism has been his strong conviction to conservation, it was very necessary that this conviction to conservation be balanced against livelihoods, economy and affording ordinary people the opportunity to be part of the economic mainstream.

Leader of Opposition in Parliament Duma Boko believes it was a monumental error to even introduce the hunting ban. “There had been studies, even by the Hunting Association of Botswana, demonstrating in no uncertain terms the folly of the hunting ban.”

When presenting his motion Markus said the increase and expansion of the elephant population in Botswana has automatically impoverished communities in Botswana, especially those in Nkange, Mmadinare, Boteti, Ngamiland, Chobe or northern Botswana, where crop damage and lack of harvest due to elephants is prevalent.

Meanwhile, a farmer in Kasane has adopted what he calls the cheapest and most effective way to keep away elephants from his farm and avoid conflict. Enoch Kegodile tells Sunday Standard they started using the polystyrene belt method at the beginning of the 2016 ploughing season. He says prior to using the tougher orange belt they had used the magnetic video (VHS) tape to keep away animals but it kept breaking.  The polystyrene belt they now use is tougher and comes in 50 meter rolls. “We use ratchets to pull the belt from one gum pole to another, fencing the entire parameter of the farm with just a single belt at 1, 7 meter height,” Enoch says. Because the video tape broke way too easily they decided to come up with something that resembles it but tougher. He says they have used only 16 gum poles around the four hectare farm. But how does a simple belt keep away wild animals let alone elephants? Kegodile is almost lost for words.

“It seems to create a confusion for the elephants,” Kegodile adds. “Elephants are used to breaking their way through everything but with this method there’s nothing to break drown. Just a mysterious belt tied to gum poles meters apart. You’d also ask yourself questions.” He says the method has helped prevent conflict between themselves and wild animals. “Our neighbor’s crops have been ravaged by elephants and other wild animals but our farm has remained untouched for the two years that we have been using this method. Kegodile says they had hoped to demonstrate at the Giants Club Summit that was held in Kasane earlier this year but they were not given the opportunity. He says they have attracted interest from as far as Sri Lanka China, and Bangladesh. He says while protecting the farm with such methods is important it is just as critical for demarcations to complement the free movement of wild animals.  If Kegodile’s method of keeping elephants and other wild animals away from the farm is anything to go by, it could come in handy for other Ngamiland farmers like young Isiah Moesi. “I was raised in a farming family,” Moesi to the Giants Club Summit in Kasane earlier this year. “As farmers here in Chobe we face a big challenge from the many elephants live around here. They raid our crops.” The Ngamiland area is home to the largest population of elephants in Africa. “They have made it impossible for us to have a successful harvest,” he told the summit. “This has consequently caused conflict between the farmers and the animals which has resulted in fatalities for both parties.” Moesi said while they appreciate the elephants as an integral part of the ecosystem and Botswana tourism, the costs they have to bear for continuous damage to crops cannot be ignored. Farmers in the region have been at loggerheads with the government regarding what they call little compensation for the damage caused by wild elephants.

When addressing parliament recently the Minister of Tourism Tshekedi Khama also alluded to the inadequacy of the compensation.  

“The compensation is not adequate,” Khama told Parliament.  “But you will see that in this financial year we are going forward, we have improved the budget from P19 million (US$1.8 million) from the past years where we had around P4.4 million (US$423,000). The P19 million does not mean specifically for this particular year, we are also using the P19 million to pay what has not been paid in the last financial year,” the minister told parliament, adding, “It is not satisfactory, it is far from satisfactory, either we have to make a conscious decision that we budget for about P30 million (US&2, 8 million) a year for compensation, and then it is paid out timeously.” He said if that fails the government would have to see to it that the management be done differently. “As it is now business as usual, I must say it is far from satisfactory, but we have the opportunity to improve on it and we should.”

Giving specific figures for damages paid Khama said the reports of elephant damages in ploughing fields and the amount of funds expended countrywide in the financial year 2015/2016 was  P8.8 million (US$846,000). In 2016/2017 the amount was P4.4 million (US$423,000), while the amount of P23 million (US$ 2, 2 million) was paid to farmers in 2017/2018. He said farmers of Maitengwe, Nkange, Senete and Tutume villages had already reported 365 elephant cases between January and April 2018. Khama said while his ministry could not guarantee 100 per cent protection against elephant damage, they have made a decision that they will improve on the delivery and the protection of crops from wildlife.

Leader of Opposition, Boko, has however argued against the government’s method of calculating compensation. He has said compensation is not negotiable, arguing that it is not dependent on how much the government has allocated in funds. “The duty to compensate, the duty to make restoration to a person who has been hurt, harmed or had their property destroyed by wildlife is not dependent on how much money the Government has set aside, it is an obligation. The person needs only to demonstrate the loss and the quantum thereof.”

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