Botswana's proposals to lift the hunting ban and introduce elephant abandonment have fostered political stance, rejection, misinformation and lobbying by pro-hunting and recreational groups.
But what does the group that has the most to lose say the photo tourism industry?
The hunting ban
The publication of the report was timed for elections in Botswana and clearly aimed at rural coordination. This has sparked a fierce debate in the media. The recommendations include expanding the safari hunting industry, building game fences, closing wildlife trails, introducing elephant waste, and building canned meat for elephants.
The ban left some communities dependent on hunting without income and fueling dissatisfaction. The recommendations were presented after meetings with various stakeholders, including affected communities. However, they were presented only in minimal consultation with the tourist industry or communities benefiting from tourism.
Today, 18% of the country is designated for national parks and 23% for wildlife sanctuaries. "Botswana has consistently built an enviable reputation as a tourist destination over the decades," says Beks Ndlovu of African Bush Camps. "This policy (non-hunting) has led to a legendary safari destination and industry's second largest in Botswana is jobs and prosperity for many citizens of Botswana."
Travel and tourism accounted for 11.5% of the country's GDP in 2017, while supporting 7.6% of Botswana's total employment (around 76 000 jobs), with both figures rising. Many people have a great interest in protecting the wildlife of the country.
"In almost all measures; Employment opportunities, skills development, income, visitor numbers, incentives for the wider economy, and environmental considerations, for example, well-managed photo tourism is the best land use option for Botswana conservation. "Says Ian Michler, director of Invent Africa Safaris.
This highly productive industry is now in danger as many visitors have chosen Botswana as a safari destination, especially because of their strong anti-hunting stance. Some consumers and parts of the media are already calling for a boycott of travel to Botswana.
Response of the tourism industry
The photo tourism industry remains confident that their voices will be heard: "& Beyond is confident that Botswana will continue to be a safe haven for wildlife," says Valeri Mouton of & Beyond.
This view was repeated by Colin Bell, co-founder of the Safari photo tourism company, Natural Selection.
"In my opinion, there is no need to resort to the blood pressure pills at this early stage of the consultation process – and ultimately, common sense will prevail."
Wilderness Safaris, the leading ecotourism operator in Botswana, said he would join the Minister in a problem-solving process with one of his goals to increase citizen participation in the tourism industry and further increase its contribution to the economy.
Ndlovu agrees. "The current recommendations to the president are the views of some members of the rural communities. The tourism industry will be the next point of contact for consultation, and our views will undoubtedly be heard completely.
Dereck Joubert, CEO of the Great Plains Conservation, is a less confident voice. Joubert called the proposal "Botswana's Blood Law" and started a petition to contradict these recommendations. "I've seen enough dead elephants from the bad guys. I do not need to see a thousand more piles of our own government, "says Joubert.
What they have to lose
While many have welcomed the government for accepting a consultation process that has been lacking in recent years, others say the proposal contradicts everything the country stands for. They are known as a sanctuary for elephants and contain almost a third of African elephants. They feel that the country has a responsibility to protect these creatures.
"The hunt for the trophy will neither stop poaching nor introduce legal trade in ivory and other elephant products that is contrary to Botswana's obligations as a founding member of the Elephant Protection Initiative," says the Environmental Investigation Agency.
Howard Jones, CEO of Born Free, agrees and says that this is exactly the wrong way to get to coexistence and that "the Botswana government has decided that the vice of personal gain can outweigh common sense."
One statement reflected in Joubert's petition: "The hunt and the proposed kills would not be for any conservation purpose, only to satisfy greed."
Michler sums it up: "The current government is right to improve a series of conflicts in the community, between humans and animals, and the communications challenges neglected by the previous government. However, it is not wise to take more regressive measures than to build on a solid ecotourism record. "
(Source: Conservation Action Trust)
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