Botswana Just Lifted Its Ban on Elephant Hunting. Conservationists Are Appalled.

Elephants in Botswana.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Botswana has lifted its elephant hunting ban, after a five-year probation period.

The country's officials said that the reversal of the ban followed "extensive consultations with all the stakeholders," in a statement published yesterday (May 22) by Botswana's Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism.

The move was deeply criticized by conservationists, who are concerned that it will increase ivory poaching. [Photos: Seized Elephant Ivory Reveals How Massive Cartels Operate]

Botswana is thought to be home to some 130,000 elephants — about a third of all the elephants in Africa. The country has long been a safe haven for the animals and has been largely unaffected by the ivory poaching that has wiped out a third of the continent's elephants in the past decade.

But there have been exceptions. Back in September 2018, Elephants Without Borders, an elephant conservation organization, conducted an aerial survey and claimed to have found one of the largest elephant slaughters to date, with about 87 of the majestic beasts killed in Botswana, Live Science previously reported. Later, however, scientists and government officials in Botswana disputed these claims, saying that Elephants Without Borders exaggerated the numbers, The New York Times reported.

The hunting ban was originally put in place in 2014 by former president and avid conservationist Ian Khama. But the current president, Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, put together a committee last year to discuss the economic and other impacts of the ban.

The government of Botswana's reasons for lifting the ban include an increase in the number of elephants in the country, a negative impact on the livelihoods of elephant hunters and an increase in elephant-human conflicts.

Recent droughts have driven elephants to search for water in regions they hadn't been before, according to National Geographic. This has led to increased contact with humans, in a way that threatens human lives, crops and property, according to Nat Geo.

The committee, which included local authorities, communities that were affected by the elephants, conservationists and researchers, came to the "general consensus … that the hunting ban should be lifted," according to the statement. The reinstatement of hunting will be done "in an orderly and ethical manner," according to the statement. But officials didn't say how.

Critics, such as Paula Kahumbu, CEO of the nonprofit organization Wildlife Direct, tweeted "hunting elephants in Botswana will not reduce human elephant conflict." That's because "no hunter wants to go after elephants in a village, they want only the big Tusker[s]," she said. But also, "hunting causes serious stress making elephants far more dangerous."

In a separate tweet she said "expect mass culling next."

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.