The Property and Environment Research Center, previously known as the Political Economy Research Center- a free market environmental think tank based in the United States has called on the United States of America to support Botswana’s reforms in the wildlife sector claiming the “reforms deserve the full backing of the U.S. Department of Interior, its agencies, agencies of other departments and Congress.”

The Botswana government is currently locked in a fierce fight with the external forces with skewed interest in the wildlife and tourism sector.

In their newly released report -REFORMS TO BOTSWANA’S WILDLIFE SECTOR DESERVE U.S. SUPPORT prepared by Catherine E. Semcer and submitted for consideration by the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), the agency says several policy reforms have been made, and are under consideration, to Botswana’s wildlife sector that will serve the conservation and regional security interests of both Botswana and the United States.

These reforms, the report states, including the lifting of a ban on hunting, deserve the full support of the U.S. Department of Interior, its agencies, agencies of other departments and Congress.

“These reforms are at risk of being undermined by a global popular outcry stemming from recent reports of mass elephant poaching in the Okavango River Delta. These reports, however, are now in dispute,” reads the report.

What is not in dispute, according to the report “is that a half-decade of heavy-handed conservation policies in Botswana, including the 2014 ban on all hunting within the country, have created the kind of socioeconomic conditions where poachers are most likely to thrive, that poaching has increased under policies enacted under Botswana’s previous administration, and that policy reforms are warranted.”

The research institute gave president Mokgweetsi Masisi’s approach to conservationism a thumbs up, saying reforms already undertaken are substantial. “In May, President Masisi began the demilitarization of the DWNP, ordering that the agency surrender its stockpile of “weapons of war.”

That same month he also revoked the standing shoot-to-kill policy for suspected poachers,” the report says. “Botswana’s president has also followed the lead of the country’s Parliament in exploring re-opening the country to hunting. In June the legislative body approved a resolution calling on Masisi to explore lifting the country’s hunting ban. The Masisi Administration is now holding a month long series of public hearings on the proposal.”

It further calls on the US Department of Interior to support Botswana, “To achieve bilateral conservation and security goals, the IWCC should encourage the U.S. Department of Interior to send a strong signal to the Government of Botswana that it supports its movement toward reform of the country’s wildlife sector and stands ready to help it achieve its goals.”

They agency made the observation that poaching incidents in Botswana have increased in Botswana by 48% since the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, when former President Khama’s brother Tshekedi Khama was at the helm, was militarized and the hunting ban was put in place in 2014. The agency further found that the ban on hunting had reduced the economic value given to wildlife along with rural economic opportunity.

“The militarization and increased aggressiveness of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks has alienated the country’s rural residents from conservation programs in the country.”

The United States, the research centre said, has made significant financial and other investments in Botswana’s wildlife conservation programs and those investments are at risk if Botswana does not make reforms to its current policies. The report urged people to ignore reports of a recent mass poaching incident in the Okavango River Delta, and its causes saying “it contain details inconsistent with established facts and should not influence U.S. posture or policy towards Botswana.”

The report notes that “the United States has at its disposal multiple strategic and regulatory tools to help Botswana restore the successful rights- and market-based conservation programs that the United States helped establish under previous administrations.”

Prior to implementing the ban, the government held a series of stakeholder meetings where the Elephants Without Borders (EWB) survey was criticized by academics for what they saw as methodological flaws and for being a “snapshot” as opposed to reporting and analysis of the long-term population trends or time series data on wildlife populations that would ideally inform conservation policy.

“This criticism, however, went unheeded by the Khama administration, which moved forward with a nationwide ban on trophy and subsistence hunting in Botswana’s communal areas. The exact reason behind their doing so remains unclear,” reads the report.

“ultimately, the five-plus years of such regressive conservation policies and programs in Botswana has provided a case study on why the rights- and market-based approaches to conservation—originally embraced by Botswana and the United States via the CBNRM program—are preferable to heavy-handed, command-and-control policies,” found the report.

Published research, the report says showed the hunting ban destroyed at least 200 jobs and stripped out more than $600,000 in revenue in the rural CBOs that had relied on hunting revenue. The same research found that revenues had decreased by 47% in the Kapano Mokoro CBO in the Okavango Delta. These amounts are significant in a country where the World Bank considers half of the population to be either “poor” or “vulnerable” according to the report.

The US report goes all out to discredit those opposing the reforms saying the most potent sign of failure, however, is that Botswana’s aggressive anti-poaching posture and that its complete outlawing of hunting, did not put a dent in poaching levels.
“Indeed, the government’s own data shows a 48% increase in poaching incidents and 127% increase in ivory trafficking incidents in recent years.”