The debate on the harshness of the hunting ban on local communities that depend heavily on tourism has already been thoroughly exhausted in different fora.
In 1996, there was wholesome extermination of the cattle in Ngamiland due to Contagious Bovine Pleuro Pneumonia (commonly known cattle lung disease) that impoverished locals. Instead of coming up with strategies to benefit those affected, a hunting moratorium and a fishing ban were imposed. Officials claimed that wildlife species were going extinct and they the decision was deliberately calculated to promote photographic tourism. What they never pronounced loudly was that hunting continues in concessions that are known to be owned by some individuals. What kind of leadership designs programmes that benefit a small section of the population to the detriment of the rest of us?
It would be interesting to find out who owns these concessions that were initially photographic where hunting now continues to date, raking in millions of pula for the holders! We have conservation biologists and economists in Parliament who should be appointed to the ministry of wildlife and natural resources, not some clueless fellows who are out to push personal enrichment. We cannot afford to be this reckless with our natural resources.
Areas that originally allowed hunting, did a lot of monitoring exercises and partnered with wildlife biologists on measuring wildlife populations. I gather that on the re-introduction rhinos in Mombo a group of white friends are monitoring those animals for their habitat utilisation and other biological parameters. Are these rhinos really ours? What is the value of our wildlife personnel if monitoring is done by people from outside the department who may be protecting the interests of their sponsors. How reliable is the information they are likely to report if game warders are sidelined in the whole process?
Before these draconians laws came into force without proper consultation, government of Botswana conceptualized the CBNRM which gave communities the power to manage their wildlife for the economic benefit of the community. This allowed them to charge hunters thousands of dollars to kill pre-defined numbers of prized animals on their land, to the general benefit of the community at large. This also allowed them to deal with problem animals like elephants that were destroying their crops, or leopards that were killing their livestock, and make up for some of the losses. This programme was successful and similar projects are springing up across Africa now.
Different communities involved in CBNRM generate income for their communities from tourism. On average, communities generated about BWP2.5 million or US$357 000 annually. Various research studies notably by Prof Mbaiwa show that in 2008, safari or trophy hunting generated BWP7 382 097, photographic tourism generated only BWP2 374 097 in community tourism projects in Botswana. Aggregated data further indicates that between 2006 and 2009, safari or trophy hunting by Community Based Organisations (CBOs) generated BWP33 041 127, and photographic tourism generated only BWP4 399 900. Then why scrap off such a beneficial activity if government is committed to fighting rural poverty?
What happened to Government's commitment to job creation? What sin have these communities, especially in Ngamiland and Chobe, committed? They are doomed as they inhabit an area demarcated as a Red zone and therefore cannot send their cattle to the lucrative European Union market. To compound the problem, their cattle have become easy prey for wild animals while their crops are raided by wild animals with little compensation.
But the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s latest Strategic Plan (2011-2020), agreed at the 10th Conference of Parties in Nagoya, Japan to emphasize the link between achieving conservation goals and reducing poverty. Its mission is to “take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services, thereby securing the planet’s variety of life, and contributing to human well-being, and poverty eradication”. As a signatory to the CD, Botswana has committed itself and its citizens to actively ensure that its biodiversity resource is maintained for generations to come. The goal of this Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan is therefore to contribute to the long-term health of Botswana's ecosystems and related species, and to encourage sustainable and wise use of resources through the provision of a framework of specific activities designed to improve the way biodiversity is perceived, utilised and conserved. The Strategy builds on and complements the National Conservation Strategy, and forms part of the Government’s effort to achieve Vision2016. Have we realized this dream, if we just abruptly make decisions without scientific basis? We commit to reduce poverty yet we can’t tap on the other sectors that can reduce rural poverty? What then is the purpose of the rural development policy of 2002. Batswana will remain poor yet we get international recognition for conservation. What is conservation if the very people that value and protect their resources cannot benefit from it?
It should be noted that the tourism revenue that accrues to communities is derived from subleasing of the hunting area, sales of wildlife quota (fees for game animals hunted), meat sales, tourism enterprises (e.g. lodge and campsite) and camping fees and vehicle hires. Various scholars opine that financial benefits accrue to the particular community, but finally end at household level as wages to individual employees and through social services or benefits. Income from tourism development accrues to individuals, households and the community at large when it is finally distributed. Incomes that accrue to communities are sources of funding for a number of social projects. These include assistance in funerals, support for local sport activities, scholarships, transport services, building of water standpipes, construction of houses for the elderly and needy, assistance to orphans and disabled, and provision of communication tools such as television and radios. The economic benefits that accrue to communities from tourism are directly linked to the development of positive attitudes towards biodiversity conservation and related benefits of conservation by local communities. For example, Mbaiwa argues that illegal hunting rates in areas where communities practice wildlife tourism has been found to be lower than those areas where there are no community-based tourism projects.
I remember in Khwai, before the hunting ban, actually pockets of guys would report to wildlife officials on illicit dealings on wildlife because they appreciated the value of it. The hostility between wildlife officials and rural populace was reduced drastically. The low levels of illegal hunting in community areas involved in tourism are critical for effective wildlife conservation. The reduction in illegal wildlife off-take suggests a positive relationship between tourism and conservation. As a result, when local communities derive economic benefits from tourism in their areas, they begin to put a higher economic value on natural resources around them and become obliged to conserve them.
My arguments are thus trophy hunting is of major importance to conservation in Africa by creating economic incentives for conservation over vast areas, including areas which may be unsuitable for alternative wildlife-based land uses such as photographic ecotourism. However, there are a number of problems associated with the industry which limit conservation benefits. Several of these problems are common to multiple countries, suggesting that if solutions were developed, conservation benefits would accrue over large areas. It is my believe that the Botswana Government should reconsider the hunting ban, and allow hunting of Elephants with strict management interventions. As for the lion I recommend another study should be committed to see how lion populations are doing, and a sound management scientific decision be made.
It is my humble opinion that a well managed trophy hunting is inherently self-regulating, because modest off-take is required to ensure high trophy quality and thus marketability of the area in future seasons. Research all over the world highlights the fact that financial incentives from trophy hunting effectively more than double the land area that is used for wildlife conservation, relative to what would be conserved relying on national parks alone. Trophy hunting creates incentives for wildlife and habitat protection under a diversity of scenarios, from state-owned concessions where people are excluded and wildlife is actively protected such as the safari areas in Zimbabwe, areas where local communities live but where wildlife is the primary land use (e.g., Wildlife Management Areas in Tanzania and Botswana), and areas where wildlife is not necessarily the primary land use but where incentives from hunting provide incentives for conservation Game Management Areas in Zambia). From a conservation perspective, I believe that the provision of incentives which promote wildlife as a land use is the single most important contribution of the trophy hunting industry.