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Botswana Kills Trophy Hunting - Ian Michler reflects

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Our thanks to Africa Geographic magazine for permission to reproduce this article. 

Just under 2 weeks ago (November 2012), the President of Botswana, Lt. Gen. Ian Khama, gave a speech wherein he announced that by the end of 2013, trophy hunting would no longer be allowed in Botswana. Speaking at a local kgotla in Mababe, a village along the edge of the Okavango Delta, he said that "Next year will be the last time anyone is allowed to hunt in Botswana and we have realised that if we do not take care of our animals, we will have a huge problem in terms of tourism."

The decision has been expected for a number of years now, and while there is still uncertainty with regards to the exact details and nature of how this will be implemented, the local press has taken his words as being the end of the road for hunters. It is believed that the ban extends to all ‘citizen hunting' as well, and covers all species, including elephant other than a small CITES based quota for those designated as ‘problem animals'.

Visionary approach
While these steps will obviously be unwelcome amongst the hunting fraternity, there is a growing group of ecologists, conservationists and ecotourism operators, as well as large numbers within the general public that will laud the government for their visionary approach. For these people, trophy hunting offers little or no benefit to conservation, and cannot match other forms of ecotourism with regards to its economic, social and educational contributions. It is also regarded as an anachronistic and needless pastime carried out by a privileged few.

Alarming inability to regulate itself
And in Botswana's case, the industry has shown an alarming inability to regulate itself, which has meant various operators over the years getting away with unethical or illegal behaviour. There will be no tears shed for some of these people.

However, we should not forget that many within both the private and government sectors across this continent still remain enamoured by the lure of trophy hunting, and it's an industry that is fuelled by a substantial lobby supported and funded by wealthy and influential business and political interests from around the world. It is these factors that have ensured hunting has remained entrenched for a good deal longer than its credentials merit. As a result, the industry will take longer to die in many other countries, but in taking this bold decision Botswana has broken ranks and they must be complimented for this.

Expect many of the hunters to head for grounds where their activities are still tolerated - Tanzania, northern Mozambique and Zambia will be the favourite destinations. This will of course bring further pressure on already pressurized wildlife populations with more hunters vying for quota.

And the Botswana government should now be monitoring the impacts this decision is likely to have on wildlife breeding and canned hunting practices within areas such as Ghanzi. We already know that a government Minister from the region has been responsible for importing and exporting lions over the last few years. Expect a surge in the appalling practices that have now become the hallmark of the private sector within the South African wildlife industry.

In the meantime, the remaining hunting concessions will in all likelihood be turned over to photographic ecotourism, a far superior land-use option for managing wildlife resources. The big challenge for them, in conjunction with government and the conservation agencies, is to ensure a successful transition. It will surely take time, and there will be setbacks along the way, but twenty years ago who would have thought that northern Botswana would be rid of trophy hunting?

About Ian Michler
This former stockbroker left the world of finance in 1989 to live and work in the wilderness, where he spent 17 years (mainly in the Okavango Delta, Botswana) steeped in the world of safari lodges, guiding and photojournalism. Now operating as a guide in southern and East Africa's wildest areas, he leads groups whose interests range from big game, birding and photography to cultural and adventure safaris. As a photojournalist, Ian writes predominantly for Africa Geographic and Africa Birds & Birding, two of the continent's leading nature-based magazines. His popular monthly column in Africa Geographic explores topics such as conservation, wildlife management and travel. He has been involved in the production of various natural history television documentaries and contributes to education on ecotourism and conservation at the University of Cape Town.