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Issue #2: The Botswana Elephant Crisis



"Twenty Thousand Elephants for Germany, this is no joke," The president of Botswana: Mokgweetsi Masisi, recently threatened.


So what leads to a president threatening to send 20,000 animals to a different continent?

There has been heavy tension between the African country and western ideals over a topic misrepresented as "Trophy Hunting" (a term coined by Teddy Roosevelt, along with the Boone and Crocket book, to incite people to take older animals as a more effective conservation effort), and Germany pushing for restrictions on the imports of "Trophies". The very term 'trophy hunting' represents why this is so frustrating for those on the other end. People who don't live any where near the debated species, particularly elephants, who have no idea what the population is, and have never spent a dime or a moment of critical thinking on conservation, can shout that the hunting practices of these animals are inhumane. Falsely accusing those involved of operating on some sort of bloodlust, and they adopt terms such as 'trophy hunting' to incite a sort of emotional reaction that prevents a rational analysis of the situation. So in this article we are going to do our best to try and shed some light on why discouraging hunters would be damaging to conservation.




History of Elephants in Botswana

The population of elephants in Botswana is at an all time high since records have been kept. This is due to a number of things. First, opposing militaries were known to use the animals as target practice. The barbaric act consisted of men gunning down elephants and leaving everything but the ivory, which would be sold and traded for weapons. This in turn caused the herds to refrain from crossing the Chobe River. Causing the Chobe drainage to turn into a haven. The migrations would take the elephants to refuge there in the dry season.


The other contributing factor to the population boom is Botswana's anti-poaching efforts. The government set up a militarized anti-poaching task force. While there are rare cases of poaching, the task forces have proved to be a huge deterrent. Botswana has turned into a sort of model for African conservation, being one of their most successful cases. While poaching still plagues Africa, when a countries anti-poaching efforts prove successful it creates a natural haven for animals, allowing sought after animals, such as the elephant for its ivory, to be specially protected.



The third reason, and one that people do try very hard to ignore, is hunters. While poachers mercilessly take the animals, and give nothing back, hunters are the very opposite. Looking at the numbers for elephants, the hunters payed up to 50,000 dollars for each elephant. In 2021, elephant hunters alone were responsible for 5 million dollars contributed to Botswana. Hunters are also responsible for roughly 426 million dollars of Africa's total GDP every year. This money is what makes conservation possible. If this pipeline were to disappear the consequences of the very wildlife they claim hunters decimate, would be catastrophic.



Current Numbers

Botswana is responsible for 1/3 of Africa's total elephants. This comes out estimated to be at least 130,000 elephants. Botswana is 224,607 square miles for reference. This population is only growing. 6,000 elephants are calved every year, which comfortably exceeds their mortality rate. Without hunter intervention this number will continue to grow further out of control.


Elephants are not small animals, and human elephant, and livestock elephant, interactions are on a steep rise. Farmers are reportedly trampled while checking livestock, and the animals have been known to reek havoc on livestock and crops. Botswana has already tried to disperse the animals to other countries, offering Angola 8,000 animals, and Mozambique 500. The latter is still yet to collect on their offer.


So the other way to tackle the problem is through hunters. Botswana offers around 300 licenses to hunt elephants every year, which, if every single one was successful, would equate to less hunter killed elephants than contaminated water killed elephants. When a hunter acquires one of these licenses, in most instances, they hire a personal hunter. Traditionally the PH would lead the hunter to bulls which were in the twilight of their breeding years. The older males become extremally territorial. While they're unable to breed, the bulls will still drive out younger males who would be the potential candidates for breeding. An aggressive bull can cause serious consequences to a herd when it drives out the breeding population. Though this practice is liable to change with the increase of elephants, and thus the increase of a need to thin the herd.


When a hunter kills an animal in Africa, in most cases they are not allowed to travel home with the meat. So the food is then distributed amongst the safari company employees, and in most cases given to villages. When looking at it from the whole scope it's very hard to find an arguable reason to regulate the hunting in Africa, or regulate the import of trophies that would affect the hunting in Africa, on any argument based on more then feelings and convoluted morals.


Anywhere you have exotics, or hunting that isn't about the retention of meat, you have the possibility of attracting the wrong crowd. Rich people who are operating on something along the same lines of, but hard to totally equate to bloodlust. And assholes who post inappropriate grip and grins with well known and well documented animals. In the spirit of honesty, I have very little desire to hunt the dark continent for the very reason I'm unlikely to return with meat. BUT, that gives me no basis to rally around the restriction of necessary practices. My personal feelings will never rule over conservation.


It's important to understand what really happens in the countries that are attacked for 'trophy hunting', especially when you live around the world from these places, and will never have the understanding living along side these animals allots you. It becomes easy to understand why people in Botswana are so passionate about it, they know we'll never know what its like, and when 90% of these emotion based restrictions come from non hunters, who just plain and simple don't understand the positive effect hunters have on these places. Restricting the import of trophies runs a serious risk of causing irreparable damage. When a hunter isn't allotted the meat, shamefully it's destined to become about the head of the animal, and if you take that away you take away any incentive a hunter would have to spend thousands of dollars of conservation money on an animal desperately in need of management.

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