The hunting issue in Botswana is receiving a lot attention in the international press and some of our clients have rightfully voiced their concerns about continuing to go on safari in the country. Based on Go2Africa’s safari expertise since 1998 and our long-standing relationships with conservation and industry partners in Botswana, we’d like to shed some light on the matter and provide you with enough information to make an informed decision about travelling to this outstanding safari destination.
What’s Happening in Botswana?
Since the 1970s and ‘80s, much of the land – barring Botswana’s national parks (Chobe, Moremi, Nxai Pan and the Makgadikgadi), mining areas and cattle ranches – was open for hunting. The government, under the then-leadership of President Ian Khama, implemented a ban on hunting in September 2013 and nearly 40% of Botswana (national parks, game reserves and wildlife concessions) was secured for wildlife conservation. The government became committed to growing its tourism industry through photographic safaris and the industry’s contribution to Botswana’s GDP grew by 70% between 2013 and 2018. A ‘photographic safari’ is the industry term for a safari where no hunting takes place, which is the service we provide.
When President Mokgweetsi Masisi came into power in 2018, he underwent extensive consultations with rural communities and other parties about their pressing issues and desires. Some of the feedback was that some communities wished to have hunting reinstated.
‘African Bush Camps cares deeply about the communities in wildlife areas: I grew up in such a community, as did most of my colleagues… and our love and respect for the environment stems from those early interactions. We therefore recognise that communities need to be fully engaged to find solutions that allow them to live harmoniously with wildlife and to benefit from their heritage. We stand ready with our industry colleagues to continue to help with initiatives in this area.’ – Beks Ndlovu, founder and CEO of African Bush Camps
The government subsequently lifted the ban on all hunting, including elephants, in May 2019 and Masisi has given several reasons for the ban to be lifted including:
- The supposed ‘explosion’ of the elephant population since 2015.
- Elephants trampling rural farmers’ fields and ruining their livelihoods (they were able to claim financial compensation for this).
- Elephants killing rural villagers.
- The government having to pay compensation for damages and deaths caused by elephants.
- Botswana’s drought – there is not enough water or grazing to sustain such a ‘big’ elephant population.
2019 is also an election year in Botswana and rural and third-party support is important for any party.
Although the ban has been overturned, it is still very unclear what the situation on the ground is because:
- Almost all old hunting lodges have been turned into safari lodges, with leases, staff and bookings into 2021 and beyond. These cannot be converted back overnight.
- Environmentalists and conservationists are fighting the overturning of the ban. The elephant population can be controlled via other methods such as contraceptives, elephant troughs, beekeeping (elephants are scared of bees) and even collaring.
- The government does not seem to have issued clear guidelines about numbers of permits, hunting areas, licences and so forth.
- No more information has been released around the government’s plan for a ‘tightly controlled elephant cull’.
For the moment, safaris in Botswana are continuing as normal. In fact, owing to the drought, conservationists and safari lovers are predicting bumper sightings for 2019 and 2020 as wildlife moves to the remaining sources of water.
‘If we had not had the support from our photographic safari guests during the period leading up to the hunting ban in 2013 (when photographic safaris were in fierce competition to hunting in and around the Okavango Delta in particular), we would never have been able to compete with hunting and convert those areas over to photographics. The same principles will apply… once hunting has been reintroduced.’ – Colin Bell, founder of Wilderness Safaris & Natural Selection
Should You Still Consider a Safari in Botswana?
The safari industry still heavily outweighs hunting tourism in the country and the government is likely to evaluate every reserve and concession regularly. It is important for the local people working in the safari industry that travellers continue to visit Botswana. The income generated from tourism will help keep the country’s safari destinations untouched by hunters.
‘Our entire ethos at Great Plains Conservation is based on caring; caring for our communities by sharing revenues and benefits, caring for our guests and partners, and caring for the environment and everything in it.’ – Dereck Joubert, Award-winning filmmaker and CEO of Great Plains Conservation
At Go2Africa, we do not support hunting but will continue to support safaris to Botswana. This is because:
- Botswana remains an outstanding safari destination and the likes of the Okavango Delta can be experienced nowhere else on Earth. Botswana’s previous tourism model of low visitor numbers means uncrowded safaris outside national parks, giving you an incredible experience, superb service and amazing guiding.
- Rather than withdraw support and allow the pro-hunting lobby to claim that safaris do not generate enough income for local people, we should encourage safari and animal lovers to continue to go. A ‘boycott’ will hurt exactly the people and animals it is trying to help.
- The logistics around hunting will take considerable time to be put in place – for now, on-the-ground safari operations are continuing as normal and visitors are having phenomenal sightings.
- A boycott is counterproductive. Staying away plays into the hands of those who claim the safari industry does not generate enough income to protect animals and help communities.
‘A decade ago, Khwai Private Reserve was a hunting concession that was successfully converted to photo-tourism. If we cannot make this concession work and pay its way, people will lose their jobs and the hunters will rub their hands with glee as they would love to hunt in that concession again! That is one of the reasons why we… recommend that guests keep supporting Botswana... Tourism dollars will help keep these areas pristine and will certainly keep the hunters at bay.’ – Colin Bell, founder of Wilderness Safaris & Natural Selection
What else can Safari Lovers do to Help?
- We strongly suggest that visitors to Botswana engage with communities as much as possible via village visits, donations to schools and clinics, and by buying local goods. Supporting communities will allow them to value a living creature over a dead one.
- If possible, tip the staff as generously as possible: every member of staff is likely to be supporting relatives living in the rural villages allegedly most affected by elephant behaviour. Financial support from safari lovers will benefit them greatly.
- If possible, donate to reputable conservation organisations or your lodge’s local programmes.