Botswana auctioned six licences to hunt 60 elephants, the first in the southern African country since President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted a five-year ban on big game hunting last May.
Africa’s overall elephant population is declining due to poaching but Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent’s elephants, has seen numbers grow to 130 000 from 80 000 in the late 1990s.
Botswanan officials say hunting is necessary to ease conflict between animals and humans, especially farmers who have seen their crops and infrastructure destroyed by elephants roaming outside their feeding zones.
“Seven hunting packages of 10 elephants each were available for auction. Only one was not sold as no bidders met the reserve price of two million pula ($181,000),” said Adrian Rass, managing director of Auctionit Botswana.
“The six packages were sold for a total of 25.7 million pula.”
Botswana and neighbours Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa have in the last few years reconsidered conservation laws to balance the need to protect sought after species such as elephant, rhino and buffalo from poaching while managing the danger they pose as they encroach on human habitation.
“Elephants killed many people and destroyed livelihoods. I think government is doing the right thing in reducing numbers,” said Tiro Segosebe, a Gaborone resident whose home village Maun is one most affected by the human-wildlife conflict.
Environmentalists are divided on the best means to manage the conflict with some fearing licensed hunting could fuel demand and encourage more illegal poaching.
The killing of “Cecil the Lion” four years ago by an American tourist in Zimbabwe sparked international uproar. In 2019 Botswana banned two professional hunters who shot dead a research elephant and then tried to hide evidence.
“Hunting elephants may not be a standard tool of sustainable use of natural resources, or the best method of alleviating the problem of human-wildlife conflict,” said Neil Fitt, former chief executive of the Kalahari Conservation Club (KCC).
“I do not see a problem if hunting is done in a proper, ethical and above-board manner,” he said.