Conservation in Southern Africa Benefits from Trophy Hunting of Elephants
During recent weeks there have been some misinterpretations in the media surrounding the sustainability of elephant hunting in certain southern African countries. The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) noted these misleading judgements with deep concern. The current conservation status of elephant populations in the region speaks for itself and shows the positive role of sustainable hunting, fully in line with the principles of Convention on Biological Diversity1
Todays’ elephant hunting in southern African countries is sustainable. This has been demonstrated for example through the monitoring of tusks from harvested elephants and population surveys. Legal elephant hunting in the region is also in line with the guidelines and regulations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora2.
The Southern African countries can justifiably boast the highest populations of elephants on the whole continent. Botswana alone has witnessed an approximate 4-fold increase in elephant numbers in the last 25 years to around 140,000 - 160,000 today. Together with high elephant densities, especially in the northern parts of the Botswana, there are obvious signs of a loss of biodiversity, such as the destruction of old growth stands of forest (for example Baobab trees). If recent reports on significant decreases in the numbers of other wildlife species, particularly other herbivores such as the antelope species, are correct, it is most probably as a consequence of the habitat change and destruction by elephants. Scientists have also observed widespread elephant range expansion across the international borders of Botswana.
Some experts argue that “tens of thousands” of elephant should be culled in Botswana to reduce the negative ecological and social impacts. It has been stated that the present elephant population dynamics in Botswana can only be “controlled” by a natural catastrophe such as a serious drought or disease outbreak. Although commercial hunting for ivory has caused serious damage to elephant populations all across their natural distribution range in past centuries, recreational safari hunting as practised for decades has never endangered the individual elephant populations. Safari hunting of elephants is strictly regulated within national and international frameworks. However, it is not a suitable instrument for population control.
Hunting tourism provides a means for creating financial incentives for rural communities and at the same time raising their tolerance towards elephants, which are the source of considerable conflicts and damages. However, during recent times there have only been up to 400 elephant hunting licences allocated annually in Botswana. These harvest rates are absolutely sustainable in terms of population dynamics, age and ivory weight of bulls and absolute numbers. The low harvest rates are a result of current trends in the policies of Botswana, with animal welfare organisations pressuring the government to restrict safari hunting. The latest alarming news suggests that most of the hunting, except elephants, will be discontinued.
While quotas for many game species are decreasing in Botswana, the number of elephant hunting licences shows a steady increase, a result of the increasing populations and the number of mature old bulls within these populations. Reasons for the decrease in quotas for other species include both, natural factors such as population dynamics, but can also be attributed to political decisions.
1. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognises the sustainable use of natural resources as one of the three pillars in the conservation of biodiversity. (www.cbd.int)
2. “CITES is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.” (www.cites.org)