Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Elephant Conservation Has Been Successful, And Legal Hunting Has Been A Part Of That Success. Botswana Can Legally Export Trophies for Non-commercial Purposes

Wood engraving of a man watching elephants drink at a watering hole in the nighttime in Gondokoro, Sudan, Africa  1884 

Half tone print of an elephant herd migrating to the Erwaso Ngiro River in Kenya, Africa  1935

The management of natural resources in Botswana is one of the areas that have been awarded top priority. This is because the economic development of the country is dependent on the sustainable utilization of natural resources. As a result around 17 percent of the country has been set aside as National parks and game reserves, with 20 percent set aside for wildlife management areas. Wildlife falls under one of the natural resources that the country has in abundance. Although there has been a decrease in some wildlife species in the country, Botswana has however experienced an increase in the population of elephants as a result of its effective wildlife conservation and management strategies. Specifically this has happened in the northern part of the country which has suitable habitat in the form of abundant water and tree/grass species enjoyed by elephants. This increase in elephant population has translated into economic and environmental problems for the human population in the area as well as for other wildlife species. Therefore to seek a harmonious co-existence between elephant and human population, the government sought permission from CITES for limited trade in elephant and elephant products as a way of reducing the elephant population.

Prior to the post colonial era, the Developing Countries as well as the rest of the world had an abundance of natural resources and depended on them directly for survival. However the management practices that were in place in order to ensure the sustainability of these resources were only those related to cultural beliefs. For instance in Botswana every ethnic tribe has its own totem. This is an animal that the tribe accords a lot of respect to and is not supposed to be killed or eaten by that particular tribe. These animals range from small animals such as rabbits and monkeys to big animals such as elephants, buffaloes, rhinos, crocodiles and hippos. Therefore when considering that there were numerous tribes each with its own totem, then a lot of animals were protected through this cultural practices. Also there are certain tree species that cannot be used for firewood and as a result escaped being cut down. This is mostly due to the fact that they could e used for other important purposes other than as sources of energy. However with an increase in human population accompanied by modernization of these societies such cultural practices were ignored and more and more natural resources were depleted. Also hunters, traders, and missionaries started descending on the Developing World in large numbers, and as such the gun - a new method for hunting - was introduced therefore unlike before people did not struggle to hunt down game for food. The game soon dwindled, unable to withstand the relentless slaughter.
In the past animals were mostly hunted for their meat, which was then consumed locally, but as societies come into more contact with each other some kind of trade between them developed. Mostly this was the barter system where an area/society that experienced a shortage in a particular commodity would exchange the one it had in abundance for the one in short supply. Trade as a way of survival for most societies resulted in animals being perceived as important commodities not only for their meat but for other products as well. For instance due to the differing cultural beliefs one society would consider a certain fauna or flora species as an important medicinal product, prompting increased trade in that particular species. For example rhino horns are considered important in the cure of certain diseases in Asia (which in reality is not necessarily the case) and this has resulted in increased trading in rhino horns between areas with high population of rhinos and Asia.
All these factors contributed to the decline in the population of different fauna and flora species. As a result the management of natural resources in many parts of the world has caught the attention of nation states and a myriad of organizations such as CITES, Greenpeace and others. This is due to the realization that natural resources play an important role in the economic development of nation states and therefore need protection from possible mismanagement by both nation states and corrupt individuals. One such natural resources which many of the Developing Countries still has in abundance but faces extinction without protection is wildlife.
Nation states were therefore forced to engage in sustainable use of natural resources. For the developing world this was, among others, necessitated by a change in patterns of international trade between the developed and developing nations. In the past developed countries were much more dependent on developing countries for primary products which were also used as raw material, as such the developing world was assured of a market for these products. However with time it became more difficult for the developing countries to compete in the international arena with primary products. For instance more and more of the developing countries' raw materials were replaced with synthetic products in the developed countries, as such the developed countries started engaging in protectionist policies in order to discourage exportation of raw materials from developing countries. Developing countries therefore had to identify other engines of growth such as trade in natural resources. For Botswana, at independence it was one of the poorest countries with beef as its main export. In time (late 1960s) diamonds had surpassed beef as the country's leading foreign exchange earner. However with the constant drought that continuously affected beef, and international competition in the diamond industry that leads to periodic fluctuation in prices, it was important for the country to diversify its economy. The diversification process was however limited. For instance diversification into manufacturing and agriculture for export purposes was limited by the protectionist policies engaged by the developed countries in these sectors. Therefore one of the viable options of diversification was the tourism sector which then required sustainable use.

Again this increased depletion of natural resources and the involvement of international organizations in the management of natural resources in many parts of the world became more of a public issue than was the case before. And this attention on the sustainable use of natural resources managed to restore some of the natural resources, which were near extinction. Therefore for countries such as Botswana, and other African countries, with a variety of wildlife and other species this was a necessary measure. Although in the past Botswana has experienced major population reductions of some species, elephants have been an exception and have been on the increase in northern part of Botswana.


Although elephants (Loxodonta africana) can be found in other parts of the country, their distribution is determined by availability of surface water. During the wet seasons, which are not frequent in the country, their distribution is much wider. However during the dry season they concentrate in the Chobe area. This area is situated in the northern part of the country and it is characterized by the Okavango delta - which is an area covering thousands of kilometers of waterways, pools, and islands of varying sizes. In addition to rivers and grassland the delta has big forests and towering trees. It is as a result of this habitat that 99 percent of the overall elephant population is found in this area. The population growth is also influenced by the fact that the Okavango delta falls in and around the Chobe National Parks, Nxai Pan National Park, as well as wildlife management areas. The northern elephant range consists of an area approximately 80 000 square km.
The method that is used for population estimates of elephants is the aerial surveys. According to statistics from the department of wildlife and national parks, as of 1996 the elephant population in the northern range was between 60 000 and 90 000. There is also concentration of close to 1000 in the Tuli block area which is characterized by the Limpopo River.
The management of wildlife in Botswana falls under the Department of Wildlife and National Parks through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (DWNP-MCI). As mentioned before the increased population of elephants can partly be attributed to prudent policies on the part of this ministry. As of the early 1980s when the hunting of elephants was imposed, it was restricted to situations where they were in one way or the other in conflict with human population. This selective shooting has been minimal. Also the government has embarked on anti-poaching activities which include the establishment of anti-poaching units around the country. To try and control the population, the DWNP-MCI has attempted strategies, which had faced various setbacks. One of them has been the Conservation and Management of Elephants in Botswana in 1991 which attempted to maintain the elephant population at the levels of 1990 (which was around 50 000), this was however defeated by the high rate at which the population was increasing.
Another component of the plan was to control the population by culling and or capturing them alive, this was however discouraged by the listing of the Elephant population on Appendix I of CITES which implies that Botswana will not be able to engage in the international trade of products derived thereof and therefore the plan could not be financed by international agencies. Sport hunting was also reintroduced in 1996 with a limited CITES approved quota of 80 elephants which was mostly undertaken to benefit the community that resides in areas adjacent to elephant populated areas and as such bear the costs that come along with increased elephant population. However this sport hunting as well other above mentioned measures, as a result of the fact that they were implemented on a minimal scale, had a near zero impact on the population of elephants. This is also coupled with the fact that tourism is an upcoming valuable and self-sustaining sector for the country which is expected to provide the country with foreign exchange earnings even when other money earning natural resources have been exhausted, therefore according wildlife management highest priority.

As mentioned at the beginning the increasing elephant population brought with it many environmental and other problems to the affected areas. These problems pose a danger to the existence of elephants themselves, other wildlife, as well as human beings. Many tree species such as the acacia tree and vegetation, which is important for the survival of elephants and other wildlife, has been negatively impacted upon. As for people living in areas adjacent to elephant populated areas this has resulted in the destruction of their crops and property, and the elephants have posed a constant threat to their lives. All this poses a problem for the country because the government has to constantly compensate people whose lives have been disrupted by the elephant population. Statistics show that in 1995 and 1996 alone seven people have been killed by elephants with one having had to undergo leg amputation as a result of elephant attack. Tourists from different parts of the world frequent the northern part of the country. Therefore this threat has also been extended to tourist so that elephants are now acting as a deterrent to tourists which then comes as a tremendous cost to government because tourism is one of the leading foreign exchange earners in the country. In 1995, the number of tourist visitors to national parks and game reserves stood at 50 000, a two fold increase over the 1994 figure.

It is therefore in light of the above scenario that Botswana together with Zimbabwe and Namibia submitted a proposal to CITES. The proposal requested that the three countries elephant herds be down-listed from Appendix I of CITES to Appendix II in the convention's Conference of parties held in Harare, Zimbabwe in June 1997. CITES Appendix I includes a list of endangered species in which there could be no trade in their products that could be engaged upon while Appendix II includes a list of endangered species tradable under control.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was put in place as a result of concern with regard to over-exploitation of wild fauna and flora for international trade purposes, which has then translated into declines in the number of many animal and plant species. Together with plant species, animal species protected by CITES include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. The protection of different species has been divided into different categories, they include - the most endangered species (Appendix I) and other species at serious risk (Appendix II). There are XXV (25) articles under the convention discussing various appendices. Of particular interest to this case study are Articles III and IV. Article III discusses, Regulation of Trade in specimens of species included in Appendix I while Article IV talks about Regulation of Trade in specimens of species included in Appendix II. According to Article III exporting specimen of species under Appendix I requires;
  • export permit
  • proof that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species (in cases of live animals)
  • verification of issuance of import permit
  • that acquisition of specimen did not contravene the laws of the state relating to fauna/flora protection
  • Prevention of injury, health risks and mistreatment of living specimen during export.
On the other hand Article IV follows the same rules but with concentration on the import side of trade.
After voting at the 1997 Zimbabwe conference the seven-year old global ban on ivory trade was lifted for the three Southern African countries, however there were certain conditions that had to be met, same as those mentioned above. Others initial conditions were that, first the countries had to put in place a sound ivory management system, this involved having to account for every piece of ivory and its origin before they could engage in trading. The other condition was that there would be no international trade before 18 months after the transfer to Appendix II comes into effect, and there was to be a quota of ivory that was to be traded with one country only and that country was Japan. For a long time most developing countries have been experiencing a reduction of their wildlife species as a result of poaching. This illegal activity was encouraged by the availability of markets for wildlife products. As a way of discouraging increased poaching activity in these countries, trade was to take place between these countries and Japan only. This would enable CITES to monitor trade and detect any trade in illegally acquired elephants and elephant products.
Annual export quotas for live specimens and hunting trophies were granted as follows; Botswana 5, Namibia 150, and Zimbabwe 50, and it was to be for non-commercial purposes. The export of live animals was to be only to appropriate and acceptable destinations. There was also to be export of hides as well as leather goods and ivory carvings. Quotas for raw ivory were not to exceed 25.3 tonnes (Botswana), 13.8 (Namibia), and 20 (Zimbabwe).

'World, take a chill pill and cut King Juan Carlos some slack.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

from Jim Stockley: Thanks for this post Wade. Genuine conservation (of biodiversity as opposed to preservation of a single species) is an important and often misunderstood topic. I took all kinds of flak on Facebook when these pictures first came out and I tried to explain Botswana's position to a number of circus and zoo 'animal lovers'.

After years of having 'Elephants are endangered' shoved down their throats, how do you explain to the same public, in small sound bites, that elephants are as common as rats in some parts of this vast continent?

The next big battle will be rhino. South Africa is to apply to CITES to allow the opening of a legal trade in rhino horn. This will allow Government and private owners to flood the market with tons of horn currently in storage and also for the harvesting of the horns (without harming the living rhino) of the 20% of rhino in private hands. It won't be a popular move with the animal rightists, nor with many people who don't want to see rhino with docked horns BUT unless private owners are allowed to financially benefit from their good custodianship of the animals they have invested in THEN they will cease to farm rhino and land will revert to cattle. The opening shots have already been fired ..... http://news.iafrica.com/sa/802507.html