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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Botswana decides to allow big game hunting !!

Bharat Ane Nenu  starring Mahesh Babu was released in 2018   directed by Koratala Siva.  The film is about Bharat, a student unexpectedly becoming the leader of Andhra Pradesh and his attempts to reform politics.  No comparison between a Cine portrayal – elsewhere in Botswana,   Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi became s the fifth President of Botswana, in  2018. He has also served as Minister of Education since 2014, and previously he was Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration – has now sought to redefine the lives of elephants !!

Botswana—widely considered a safe haven for elephants in Africa—appears to be suffering from its own surge in poaching, according to aerial survey work published today in the journal Current Biology. “We have a significant poaching problem—let’s deal with it,” says Mike Chase, who, as the director of the Botswana-based nonprofit Elephants Without Borders, led the latest aerial survey study as well as earlier elephant counts, including the 18-country Great Elephant Census. “We were warned by conservationists in other countries that the poachers would eventually come down to Botswana, and now they’re here,” he says.

Botswana is estimated to be home to more than 130,000 savanna elephants—about a third of Africa’s remaining population. Until recently, the southern African country had largely escaped the scourge of elephant killings for ivory, still in high demand in China and elsewhere. The African Wildlife Foundation, an international conservation nonprofit, estimates that as many as 35,000 elephants are killed each year in Africa. Zambia’s Sioma Ngwezi National Park, for example, had about 900 elephants in 2004 but only an estimated 48 just over a decade later—losses likely driven by ivory poaching. And in the Ruaha-Rungwa region of south-central Tanzania, the elephant population is estimated to have fallen from more than 34,000 in 2009 to 8,000 by 2014.

The Botswana count in Current Biology appears on the heels of last month’s announcement by the government that it will lift its five-year-old hunting ban on all species—a controversial move that will allow renewed trophy hunts of elephants and other animals. Such hunts, the government said, are needed because dangerous encounters between people and elephants have been increasing and may threaten livelihoods, among other reasons. It's one of the world's last sanctuaries for African elephants. But now, Botswana says, its population of the animals will be fair game for hunters. The southern African nation, which is home to 130,000 elephants -- more than anywhere else on the continent -- imposed the ban in 2014 to help declining numbers recover from poaching and shrinking habitats.

Recently, Botswana's government scrapped the ban, shrugging off criticism from some environmental groups and conservationists. It cited increasing conflict between humans and elephants, as well as the need to monetize conservation efforts. "Conservation is in our DNA. We have never been reckless. Our responsibility towards conservation has not changed, but our responsibility to the people has not changed as well," said Kitso Mokaila, minister of environment, wildlife and tourism in a press conference in the capital, Gaborone. He maintained the ban had always been temporary. Earlier this year a cabinet group in Botswana recommended elephant culling and a factory to can elephant meat. The proposals drew a major backlash.

"If it is all about community and wildlife conflict, there are dozens and dozens of options that can be used before one hauls out the guns," a Conservationist  told CNN. "Many people would be willing to put up a lot of money and ideas to help communities before we resort to the killing of animals." The African elephant is classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List.  

Hunting for big game, including elephants, is common practice in the neighboring countries of southern Africa. The governments of Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa assert that well-managed hunting can help preserve the herds by channeling profits into conservation, and protect ecosystems from the destructive power of large elephant populations. Hunting, what ? ~ mere killing by rich people armed with sophisticated machinery, shooting and killing animals that have no protection and what is great about this mindless act ??

There is an ongoing debate about the actual worth of hunting licenses compared to tourism dollars. The Botswanan government said it would grant up to 400 licenses per year for shooting elephants. Overall, tourism generates far more jobs and revenue than hunting, according to photographic safari operators and former hunters. Many scientists and conservationists also feel that protecting elephants is a moral imperative. "It's a morally repugnant issue, the equivalent of shooting dogs, cats, whales or great apes," said Save the Elephants founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton. Multiple studies show that elephants are highly intelligent, sentient creatures that are aware of what happens in their environment, and express fear and stress when other members of their species are killed. "Hunting is an outdated practice which has no place in the modern world," Kenyan wildlife conservationist Paula Kahumbu told CNN. .. .. .. and sadly, the so called hunters,  prefer the biggest bulls, with the largest tusks.  That can skew sex distribution and affect elephant ecology, knocking out the strongest and most knowledgeable of the species out of the gene pool.

Of course, it is far less evil that  Poaching, that potentially could wipe out populations. And in some parts of the continent, it already has. The main difference between Poaching & Hunting is – first is considered illegal activity by people trying to make money by killing the latter is legal killing by rich people willing to spend money for the same activity – for the hapless animal it makes no difference !

Right now, the sale of ivory is banned by an international agreement on trade in endangered species.But Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, with the support of South Africa, are making a fresh appeal to lift restrictions on the sale of raw ivory. Those countries account for more than half of the world's elephants and have millions of dollars' worth of stockpiles that they say could be sold and plowed back into conservation. Several weeks ago, as they discussed lobbying against the ivory ban at a summit in Botswana, the host government presented the visiting leaders with elephant feet stools. It was an odd gift for a country trying to push its conservation credentials. All these point to a  shift under President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who has taken a markedly different stance on conservation and hunting than his predecessor.

As it happens the move to lift the ban is tried to be projected by PR pundits as if a move  lauded by locals claiming  wild elephants are ruining their livelihoods.  In a statement detailing the reversal, Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism cited the increasing prevalence of human-elephant conflict, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ inability to respond to animal control reports in a timely fashion, and the toll on communities ill-equipped to handle the unimpeded roaming of these roughly 12,000-pound creatures. The ministry further said that reinstatement will be performed “in an orderly and ethical manner.”  The exact nature of this “ethical” implementation remains unclear, as do the long-term ramifications of the decision for both Botswana’s human and pachyderm residents.

To protect the pachyderms from trophy hunters and ivory poachers, former President Ian Khama imposed the hunting ban in 2014. An ardent conservationist, he also introduced a highly controversial “shoot to kill” policy for stopping poachers, which included arming anti-poaching units with military-grade weapons and approved shooting known poachers on sight. Both policies have been eliminated under the current administration. The elephant hunting ban helped Botswana emerge as a “conservation success story.” Soon after taking office, Khama’s successor President Mokgweetsi Masisi tasked a committee with re-evaluating the ban. A committee of local authorities, affected communities, non-profits, tourism organizations, conservationists and other so-called “stakeholders” was created to assess the ban’s status. In February, the committee released its recommendations, which included lifting the ban, implementing “regular but limited elephant culling,” and, most controversially, establishing the practice of canning elephant meat for pet food—a suggestion that has since been abandoned. Rather than advocating for outright culling, Masisi’s government now prefers the term selective “cropping.”

As elephant expert said , “There’s no such thing as ‘ethical hunting.’ It’s an oxymoron.” Africa loses some 30,000 elephants to ivory poaching every year, but Botswana, according to National Geographic’s Bale, has so far “largely escaped” the crisis. An elephant is killed on the African continent once every 15 minutes,  Botswana was the last refuge for these elephants, and suddenly that refuge is going to start hunting them. Many environmentalists fear that the lifted ban is simply a precursor to renewed efforts aimed at legalizing the ivory trade. In purely economic terms, suspending the ban carries the risk of hurting Botswana’s tourism industry, which is the country’s second highest source of foreign income after diamond mining. Currently, Botswana markets itself as what BBC News deems a “luxury safari destination,” attracting wealthy visitors eager to interact with elephants and other exotic animals in their native habitat. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, agriculture and land development have driven African elephants into an increasingly smaller area over the past several decades.

So like the story of African story of ‘deer getting up every day knowing that it has to run faster than the fastest of chasing cheetah’ – elephants in Botswana will have to get up thinking of hiding themselves from the modern gadgets of licensed game hunters ! Sad !!  .. .. every now and then a Western journalist would raise a hue of elephants being chained, confined and not properly treated in India, would they not read, know – travel to these places, cry for saving the same hapless mammoth elephant !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
17th Aug 2019.
Pic of impressive elephant : credit facebook page of Botswana President Masisi

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