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John McCoy: Botswana's people persuade government to restore big-game hunting

When a pendulum swings, it usually swings back.

In the southern African nation of Botswana, a pendulum just swung back. On May 22, the country’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism lifted a five-year ban on big-game hunting.

The ban had been put into place in 2014 after biologists detected declines in several wildlife species. “The causes of the decline are due to a combination of factors such as anthropogenic impacts, including illegal off-take and habitat fragmentation or loss,” Caroline Bogale-Jaiyeoba, a spokeswoman for the ministry, said at the time.

Anti-hunting activists praised the ban. Botswana historically had been one of Africa’s most hunter-friendly countries, and it was home to solid populations of many of the species hunters most seek.

From “plains game” such as kudu, eland and gemsbok to “dangerous game” such as elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion, hunters had a stunning variety of species to pursue. But then the hunting moratorium took Botswana off the “must go” list of destinations. At the same time, it triggered a series of unforeseen consequences.

People whose livelihoods had been wrapped up in big-game hunting — owners of wildlife concessions, outfitters, guides, trackers, bearers, camp managers, cooks — had to find other work. So did anti-poaching rangers, whose salaries had been tied to permits and trophy fees paid by hunters.

Predator populations expanded, and people in rural areas started losing livestock. Wildlife-human conflicts skyrocketed. Without the revenue once generated by hunting, government officials couldn’t adequately fund wildlife-control efforts. Short-staffed agencies couldn’t respond quickly to the public’s requests for help.

People in rural communities, who historically had shared the meat from hunters’ kills, started killing their own. It took a while, but government administrators eventually figured out that wildlife is more valuable as game than it is as “bushmeat.”

So, after a nationwide series of meetings with local authorities, affected communities, nongovernmental organizations, tourism businesses, conservationists, researchers and other stakeholders, government officials came up with a plan to make recreational hunting sustainable in the long term.

Henceforth, hunting quotas will be set so that fewer animals are killed than are born each year. All species, including leopard and lion, will be huntable again. Big-game hunts will be held only in areas of wildlife-human conflict, and away from areas popular with photographers and eco-tourists.

Government officials agreed to bring a hunting-concession system, with long leases and 25 percent of the proceeds shared with the communities. Buffer zones will be set up around communities to keep dangerous wildlife away from humans.

Anti-hunting activists will hate it, of course. They’ll whine about the killing of “endangered” lions and elephants, even though though local populations of those and other species are doing quite well, thank you very much.

Apparently, Botswana’s government officials decided to set their policy based on the needs of their people and not on the wishes of anti-hunters in countries far away. It’s about time.

Reach John McCoy at, 304-348-1231, or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

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