This morning i had the pleasure and privilege of representing the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) on live radio with counterparts from the AP and BDP on the topic Human Wildlife conflict. Predictably, given time constraints, the discussion ended up focused only on elephants. I want to briefly summarize the key points made by the UDC for those that have missed the interview and may not be able to access the podcast.
1. Acknowledges that the issue is very complex and requires more time to adequately deliberate on than was allocated.
2. Noted that as a member of the World Conservation Union, Botswana was bound by principles of the ecosystem approach one of which asserts that " the objectives of ecosystem management are a matter of societal choice".
3. UDC clarified that "society" in this context does not only refer to local level stakeholders like communities living in the elephant range but includes NGOs, international stakeholders and individuals who have vehemently expressed their opposition to the hunting ban.
4. As such, the UDC denounced President Masisi's remarks that "we should not be lectured by people in the comfort of their living rooms who dont have the species we have".
5. The UDC reminded the ruling party that beginning in the early 1980s, programmatic precursors of our CBNRM policy were funded by the American people; that the transboundary grass roots natural resources management project called Every River Has its People was funded by the Swedes; that our Okavango delta management plan was co-funded by the Norwegians and that more recently SAREP was funded again by the American people and finally the KAZA TFCA Secretariat is primarily funded by the Germans. This was meant to demonstrate that westerners are key stakeholders and partners in the management of our natural resources that we ought to give ear to.
6. The UDC then showed that the elephant issue is at two scales namely the local or domestic scale and the international scale and that the therefore the solution to our elephant problem must emanate out of a reconciliation of these two scales.
7. UDC reminded listeners that the african elephant population has over a 100 year period been decimated by about 90% due to poaching. A 100 years ago, there were 3.5million elephants and now we have only 415 000 elephants left and nearly 40% of them are found in Botswana. Because of this decimation, the african elephant is classified a vulnerable species.
8. We explained that due to habitat destruction and fragmentation, the elephants are now unable to utilise the entire elephant range according to seasons and therefore are forced to be sedentary or to reside in one place resulting in increased degradation.
9. We explained that in years of drought such as the current year, elephants end up encroaching into human settlements in search of food and water, in the process generating conflict that increasingly is fatal.
10. We emphasized that without adequate investment in adaptation and mitigation activities, this conflict has risen over the years and will continue. We revealed that funds intended to help communities adapt and mitigate against conflict such as the Ivory Fund have been misused by the BDP government over many years. Even the alternative means of livelihood promised communities that relied on hunting was never delivered.
11. Forced into a hopeless corner like this, the only response our people can give when asked what it is to be done with these elephants is singular: KILL OR REDUCE THEM.
12. The ultimate or long term solution to this problem is enabling ecosystem connectivity through trans frontier conservation areas in the KAZA for Chobe and Ngamiland populations and the great limpopo/ Mapunbugwe TFCA for Bobirwa populations. But ecosystem connectivity can only happen when the countries decide to invest adequate resources and are committed to the work not the current situation wherein we look up to donors to be the ones to fund us.
13. The short and medium term solution is to invest resources heavily in community specific adaptation and mitigation plans so that our people receive the help and relief they desire and require against elephant conflict. This for example includes drilling and maintaining boreholes for elephants and wildlife to use especially in dry seasons so that elephants do not feel the need to encroach settlements; training and maintaining teams of local elephant scouts to warn and ward off elephants from the vicinity of human settlements; increasing quantity and efficiency of compensation and care for survivors of elephants attacks, those killed and those whose water supply infrastructure has been destroyed.
14. The UDC understands the plight of Batswana living in the elephant range and deeply cares for them. As our manifesto stipulates, the UDC shall reform CBNRM in totality to ensure that Batswana are empowered and benefit from their natural resources at an unprecedented level.