To the intense dismay of conservationists and animal welfare advocates, Botswana has lifted a 5-year-old ban on elephant hunting. The Botswana government claims there is growing conflict between the animals and humans; many suspect the decision is a calculated bid by President Mokgweetsi Masisi to sway rural voters before this year’s elections. The hunting ban was imposed in 2014 by former president Ian Khama, a conservation-minded leader who took a strong stance against poaching and opposed trophy hunting. Masisi, his successor, evidently feels differently. Upon taking office in 2018, he immediately formed a committee to reassess the ban and has now set it aside.
Botswana is home to about 130,000 elephants, the largest elephant population of any country and roughly one-third of the entire elephant population of Africa. A recent survey conducted by Elephants Without Borders, however, indicates a dramatic uptick in poaching in Botswana. (The Botswana government, despite financing the survey, disputes its results.)
In the midst of this, the government is also seeking to reap profits from the ivory trade. Prior to this year’s planned CITES meeting, Botswana joined Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe in proposing to allow sales of stockpiled ivory from those four countries without restriction. Botswana claims it would funnel the profits back into conservation, but such ill-gotten gains rarely are, and there is strong evidence that such a move would only fuel the illegal ivory trade, complicating enforcement and leading to more elephant deaths across the continent.