By Emmanuel Koro in Johannesburg, SA

BOTSWANA hunting communities in the wildlife-rich Chobe District have decided to further improve wildlife and habitat conservation as well as community development using the millions that they earned from international hunting this season.

Interviews with representatives of two hunting communities in Chobe District this month gave a glimpse of how international hunting revenue is significantly supporting wildlife and habitat conservation there.

The two hunting communities neighbouring the iconic Chobe National Park that boasts the world’s biggest elephant population in a single national park, earned P5,6 million (US$548 463,73) and P7 million (US$685 579,66) respectively from international hunting this season.

“We don’t have a land-use management plan, so the first thing to do is to rezone our land for different uses with wildlife and conservation topping the list,” said Chieftainess Rebecca Banika of Paleka Community. 

“That’s the first thing we need to use the money for. The land-use management plan will guide us on how best we can conserve wildlife, habitat and manage the hunting.”

This is an unprecedented move involving communities using wildlife hunting revenue to rezone their entire land in order to benefit conservation and socio-economic development.

The Paleka hunting community takes wildlife conservation seriously. 

Their wildlife conservation is powered by international hunting funds.

“As soon as the hunting started, the community game guards also started patrolling the area and their presence makes it difficult for poachers to come in the wilderness area,” said Chieftainess Banika.

Chieftainess Banika said that other types of rezoning in her community include setting aside land for tourism businesses and agriculture. 

“We intend to diversify into agriculture and tourism in the future so that if, for some strange reason, hunting is banned, we would continue to survive,” she said.

Under the influence of Western animal rights groups, Botswana’s former President Ian Khama unilaterally banned international hunting from 2014-2019.

The implication of the ban was that the momentum of effective community involvement in wildlife management was suddenly stopped, including the benefits and also the incentives to protect it.

Now it seems local hunting communities are still fearful of a possible future international hunting ban. 

But this certainly would not happen under the watch of current President Mogkweetsi Masisi. 

President Masisi came as the saviour of wildlife conservation in Botswana when he lifted the Khama international hunting ban in 2019. 

He effectively restored the involvement of Botswana’s rural communities in wildlife management.

This year alone, Chieftainess Banika’s Paleka hunting community is happy to have been paid R7 million

(US$685 579,66) this hunting season. 

The Paleka Community Trust comprises Kazungula, Lesoma and Pandamatega villages that will share the money equally.

“The community is happy,” said Chieftainess Banika. “The lifting of the international hunting ban has given them the opportunity to use the international hunting income to employ community trust guides, chefs and drivers. The meat from the elephant is also being given to the community to boost its protein base.”

Following their involvement in imposing an international hunting ban on Botswana in 2014, Western animal rights groups are increasingly being viewed as worse than poachers! 

Their international hunting ban campaign took away wildlife benefits from Botswana’s hunting communities. Without benefits, communities that co-exist with wildlife didn’t have any incentive to conserve it under the ban. 

They started engaging in revenge lion killings for killing their livestock and their loved ones.

This was a recipe for wildlife conservation disaster in Botswana. 

In one incident, four lions were killed. 

This was confirmed in an interview at the recently held Kasane Elephant Management Summit; with Botswana’s former Minister of Environment Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism,  now that country’s ambassador to Washington, Kitso Mokaila.

“We denounce animal rights groups’ anti-international hunting campaigns because they don’t understand wildlife management through hunting because they don’t co-exist with wildlife,” said Chieftainess Banika.

“They also don’t know how much crop damage is being caused by elephants, elands and buffaloes. 

“But hunting benefits make us tolerate co-existing with these animals. 

“We now consider wildlife as our property just like our livestock as long as we continue benefitting from it. 

“The animal rights groups have never helped us in any way but international hunting continues to help us with wildlife and habitat conservation funds, including community socio-economic development.”

Elsewhere in the wildlife-rich Chobe District, the vice-chairman of Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust (CECT) Nchunga Nchunga said his community hunted many different types of wildlife, including 15 elephants, two leopards and 15 buffaloes.

“We sold our hunting quota for 

P5,6 million (US$548 463,73) and have already banked the money that we will use for wildlife conservation and community development projects,” said Nchunga. 

“Apart from wildlife conservation, it’s entirely up to each village on how else to use the money. 

“We prioritise wildlife conservation 24/7 and employ 10 community game guards who protect wildlife from poachers. 

“The international hunting income is shared equally among the five CECT villages.”

Satau is one of the five CECT villages. 

It’s going to use some of the money for community development projects that include abattoir construction.

Another member of CECT, Kavimba Village, has used part of their international hunting revenue to electrify and also fence all their village development community buildings (widely viewed as village Parliaments) where all the important local issues are discussed.

Wildlife is also supporting youth education in CECT villages.

“The money from international hunting is also used to uplift certain identified youths who want to further their studies,” said Nchungu.

Botswana has several hunting communities, including in Maun and around the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. 

Contrary to the Western animal rights groups propaganda that hunting destroys wildlife, Nchungu said only half of the number of wild animals allocated for hunting were hunted. 

This supports the recent revelations by Southern African professional hunters that they never exhaust any given hunting quota.

According to acceptable international hunting standards, only 0,5-3 percent of the population is hunted as a management measure. 

Therefore, this demonstrates that hunting is a sustainable wildlife management off-take.

Old males are exclusively hunted because they are no longer of reproductive value.

Botswana’s President Masisi also acknowledges that the involvement of communities in sustainable hunting is an effective wildlife management approach. 

This is evidenced by the passionate and eloquent speech that he delivered to anti-international hunting audiences in the US in June 2019, explaining the wildlife conservation benefits that international hunting brings.

Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who writes independently on environment and development issues in Africa.

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