Khama misled the nation on hunting ban (classified report)

Chedza Mmolawa

The Botswana Gazette has unearthed a research report written by the Kalahari Conservation Society (KCS), entitled HUNTING AND THE FUTURE OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION IN BOTSWANA dated May 13, 2009 which reveals that former president Ian Khama concealed the findings of KCS that advised Government to implement regulated and controlled trophy hunting in Botswana.
When Khama assumed the presidency in 2008, his government legislated for an outright hunting ban in Botswana and push for photographic tourism, in an industry in which he has known interests, both personal and financial.
Investigations by The Botswana Gazette reveal that Khama disregarded the findings and advice put forward by KCS to promote personal interests and adopt policy considerations that would promote his personal approach to wildlife conservation. Khama was KCS vice chairman for over 22 years and then its patron at the time when he banned hunting outright in 2012; none of the KCS findings were made public. The study was funded by Norwegian based World Wildlife Federation (WWF).
Khama’s hunting ban was the successful culmination of lobbying by the country’s photographic safari operators in their long running war against trophy hunting tour operators.
In 2012 Khama implemented the hunting ban despite warnings by other African, particularly those from the southern region of Africa. Botswana broke ranks with other SADC countries and the European Union which sided with regulated government approved trophy hunting at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting held in South Africa in 2016 by calling for a total ban of trophy hunting. Reports from the 2016 meeting reveal that the implementation of the Khama conservation policies had already divided the SADC countries on the ban on trophy hunting, despite the fact that the move received wide applause within the international conservation community.
Experts at the conference argued that scientific and historical evidence showed that the hunting prohibition would be detrimental to wildlife. It was argued that when fully employed, the ban may well be the catalyst for decimation of the country’s wildlife and habitat, a loss from which it may never recover. It was feared that Botswana’s ban on sport and trophy hunting undermined the country’s past wildlife management success.
Despite warnings from the KCS, Khama forged ahead with the ban and justified it by sending the then Minister of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism Edmont Moabi, to make a public statement saying, that the ban came as a realization that shooting of wild game purely for sport and trophies was no longer perceived to be compatible with either the country’s national commitment to conserve and preserve local fauna or the long-term growth of the local tourism industry.
News of the Botswana hunting ban was praised by animal rights groups, many of which twisted the findings of the KCS research to justify the ban. Founder of Elephants Without Borders (EWB) and board member of Tlhokomela Trust, an endangered wildlife trust founded by Ian Khama, Dr. Mike Chase conducted an aerial count in 2010 of wildlife in the Okavango Delta.
He concluded that the populations of some wildlife species had been decimated by hunting, poaching, human encroachment, habitat fragmentation, drought, and veldt fires over the last decade. Chase’s 2010 research found that 11 species had declined by an average of 61 percent since a previous survey conducted in 1996. Chase reported population declines in ostrich, down 95 percent; wildebeest by 90 percent, Tsessebe by 84 percent; warthogs and kudu by 81 percent; and giraffes by 66 percent.
In contrast the previously undisclosed KCS report reveals that in 2009 it advised Government in favour of sport and trophy hunting, taking into consideration the Wildlife Conservation Policy (1986) that designated that national parks and game reserves are areas where conservationist policies were to be implemented, although non-consumptive forms of use such as photographic safari operations would also be encouraged. The report states that areas surrounding protected areas in the form of Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) should be used primarily for the sustainable use of wildlife including hunting and tourism.
Implicit in Section 3 of the policy report is the finding that hunting would be a valuable form of land use in WMAs as the practice had proven itself to have lived up to the spirit and intent of the country’s forefathers by providing financial and social benefit to communities, as outlined in the Tribal Grazing Land Policy, “The objective of this policy paper is therefore, to encourage the development of a commercial wildlife industry that is viable on a long-term basis. This will serve to create economic opportunities, jobs and incomes for the rural population in particular and the national economy in general.”
KCS in their report found that by precluding consumptive wildlife utilization options government would be engaging in a retrogressive policy that would reduce the profitability of wildlife -based land uses in many areas and reduce community earnings. Therefore, KCS argued, uninformed changes to hunting practices in Botswana would not result in a compensatory increase in photo-tourism earnings, but would instead decrease the net impact of wildlife tourism and reduce local incentives for people to conserve wildlife.
It also revealed that while it found that some wildlife populations were declining, the reasons for the declines could not be attributed to a single cause, such as hunting. KCS suggested that factors contributing to the decline may be a combination of the increase of human encroachment on the natural habitat due to demands for: more arable agricultural land, more grazing land for livestock, or settlement, global warming as well as illegal hunting.
KCS advised government that rather than simply precluding trophy hunting as a land use option, government strategy should focus on maximizing the contribution of both trophy hunting and photo-tourism to conservation and rural community development, promoting the development of photo-tourism in under-utilized areas and removing bottle-necks which limit expansion of the industry. The report called upon government to address key conservation issues affecting Botswana, such as the negative impact of veterinary fencing and the ever increasing conflict it caused, to some extent, by the expansion of human activities into wildlife based land uses and employ adaptive management strategies for the management of wildlife in the country.
KCS argued that it is irrational for one to assume that a high wildlife density and diversity in areas surrounding protected areas are best suited for photo safaris, because previous and recent studies showed that there is very little land available that is suitable for photo tourism. KCS advised that if those in favour of photo-tourism based their argument that such land is best suited to photographic safaris because of the high density of animals, “then the case can easily be made that both hunting and photographic safaris could be practiced in the same area to optimize the opportunities inherent in the situation. Hunting is a low impact activity, that when practiced effectively and professionally creates little disturbance to surrounding populations of wildlife, whilst creating a much higher economic ‘rate of return’ than comparative photographic safari activities in the same situation for the same time.”
Despite its findings and recommendations, the KCS report was not made available to the public nor was a public debate initiated to discuss communal concerns over wildlife and human encroachment, this is the first time sources have leaked it to The Botswana Gazette. Cabinet, a source reveals, did not address the issues raised by the KCS report. Addressing the public at the time of the implementation of the ban, Edmont Moabi alluded to the growth in revenue in tourism due to photographic “hunting” policy.
While Moabi was addressing the public, 2 years after the report was released to government, he failed to disclose that the KCS report found that it was irrational to assume that a ban on hunting would increase benefits (revenues and employment) to communities and reduce dependence on quota because it was well established that communities who held concessions that allowed for hunting quotas have not been adequately supported by government to adequately manage their affairs and develop the capacity to run such enterprises themselves. “Currently communities with concessions in areas surrounding protected areas have relied upon the revenue received from professional hunting through joint-venture partnerships. The loss of this revenue will be heavily felt especially in the short term whilst (if ever) photographic safari tourism in such areas replaces this form of revenue. However, it is unlikely that photographic safari tourism in some areas will replace this revenue at the same levels. However, clever zoning of the areas into both photographic safari tourism and hunting will inevitably result in an increase in benefits accruing to the concession holders.”
KCS stated that the motivation behind the proposed changes on hunting, was the suggestion that by portraying an image of Botswana being a safe haven for wildlife, free of hunting, the country may attract a greater number of ‘ethical’ tourists. The report concludes however, there is no available evidence to support this suggestion: the hunting industry in South Africa is larger than any other African nation, and yet that country also receives the most wildlife-viewing tourists by far. Similarly, in East Africa, Tanzania which has a large hunting industry competes easily with Kenya (where hunting is banned) for wildlife-viewing tourists.
According to the KCS report Maun/Okavango and Kasane/Chobe areas attract more than 90% of all holiday visitors to Botswana and generates 87% of all park revenues, whereas other areas, such as the Central Kalahari, Kgalagadi, the Makgadigadi Pans, Nxai Pans and Tsodilo Hills etc, were at the time of the report visited by relatively few tourists, “There is thus major scope for expanding the photo-tourism industry within the parks network, without closing profitable trophy hunting ventures in the semi protected and unprotected portions of the wildlife estate.”
The report concludes by stating that the Botswana Government had encouraged significant investment in the country by the local and international hunting industry. A policy U -turn resulting in a ‘ban’ on trophy hunting would result in a significant outcry from and disinvestment by the hunting industry. Such events could cause reduced investor confidence in Botswana among other industry sectors, and in the SADC region.
“In light of the above, rather than abandoning the proven benefits from sustainable use, we advise the Government of Botswana to adjust strategy and invest in research to identify factors currently limiting the value of hunting to conservation and rural development, and to identify steps to improve the industry. This study should also be sensitive to the needs of the local communities, the private sector, civil society, neighbouring states and the international hunting fraternity. This would be consistent with the cultural and democratic values that Botswana is well known for.”
Recently President Mokgweetsi Masisi came under international pressure over a controversial and disputed report by Elephant Without Borders for the killing of over 87 elephants in the country. The EWB report attributed that the elephants died as a result of poaching, which had been facilitated by the disarming of the unlawfully armed personnel under the Ministry of Tourism.
Government has asserted that the EWB report was misleading and called upon the international and local media to visit the site of the elephant carcasses. The allegations made by EWB have been seen by political experts as the culmination of a simmering pot boiling over in retaliation as the former president, his brother who is the current Minister of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama and their tourism business associates attempt to undermine Masisi’s administration. One of the first things on President Masisi’s “to do list” was to appoint a Cabinet Committee to consult with communities on Khama’s hunting ban.
Masisi’s plan to reverse Khama’s move to promote photographic tourism at the expense of trophy hunting tourism gained support when it received full backing of Parliament. Members of parliament passed a motion to consider lifting the hunting ban and shooting of elephants early this year..