By Emmanuel Koro,
WITHOUT it, Botswana hunting communities would have never known what it feels like to democratically determine how to meet their own socio-economic needs.
They enjoy the money they receive from it and have comparatively ‘fat’ bank accounts. However, this is not money earned for nothing.
It comes at a great cost of co-existing with wildlife that destroys their crops, property and even makes them pay the ultimate price of losing their loved ones.
Nevertheless, they still conserve that which usually harms them (wildlife) because the benefits from international wildlife hunting are far greater than the human-wildlife-conflict costs.
A recently circulated video shows an elephant bull violently slamming a resident of a Botswana hunting community on the ground with fellow residents watching helplessly. They screamed in order to scare the elephant bull away but the wild animal didn’t stop its deadly attack.
The elephant bull took the life of their fellow resident almost instantly.
Some residents survive such attacks but they are left totally disabled, unable to walk or feed themselves.
Amid all these costs from co-existing with wildlife is a promising 21st Century wildlife economic boom in Botswana’s hunting communities.
It is not common in Africa that a rural community receives almost US$1 million annually and uses it for wildlife and habitat conservation, including socio-economic development as it wishes.
However, it is quite common in Botswana’s wildlife-rich hunting communities to receive large payments from international hunting and use the income to support conservation and socio-economic development.
The payments for hunting trophies are made to Botswana’s hunting communities months ahead of the international hunting season that starts in April, annually.
The hunters are always guaranteed hunting trophies in these wildlife-rich communities – hence the upfront payments.
What a wonderful and sustainable business!
The Botswana hunting communities say it’s their major economic activity in the 21st Century that is “…set to continue growing in the future.”
According to a 2019 IUCN report, ‘Informing Decisions on Trophy Hunting’, prices paid for hunts differ enormously, from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of US dollars.
They involve a substantial revenue flow from developed to developing countries. In developing countries, landowners/managers often negotiate with ‘hunting operators’ to decide who will get the hunting right or ‘concession’ on their land, and on what terms.
The operator, in turn, secures contracts with clients overseas and runs the hunting trips.
No wonder why this month several Botswana hunting community representatives described international hunting as their ‘main economic activity’.
Apart from benefitting from international hunting, the Botswana hunting communities also get empowered to negotiate trophy hunting prices with hunting operators.
A university graduate and resident of the Ngamiland hunting community and the co-ordinator of the Trust for Okavango and Cultural Development Initiatives, Gakemotho Satau, said in an interview that his observation over the years is that international hunting is the biggest economic activity in Botswana’s hunting communities.
“Yes,” he said, confirming that international hunting is the biggest economic activity in Botswana’s hunting communities.
“International hunting supports hunting communities’ diverse socio-economic options. Therefore, if international hunting is banned, communities will lose revenue streams, jobs while wildlife poaching arising from revenge killings of wildlife will increase as well as poverty gaps.”
Interviews conducted this month with Botswana hunting community representatives show that the Botswana hunting communities share the same view that international hunting is their major economic activity.
They share the view that “…without international hunting, there would not be any rural economic activity to replace it with equal socio-economic and conservation benefits that they are currently enjoying.”
The Chieftainess of the Pandamentenga hunting community, Rebecca Banika, said that international hunting is supporting socio-economic developments, wildlife and habitat conservation in her community.
“We also benefit from being given game meat of hunted wildlife,” she said.
“Every community benefits from international hunting revenue. We use some of the funds to sponsor school children who fail their high school exams so that they can pass and become employed and then look after themselves and their families.
“We also use the hunting revenue to support local farmers by purchasing farming equipment such as the community tractor that we recently bought.
“For the 2023 hunting season, that starts in April annually, we have already been paid in advance P6,5 million (over US$430 000). We use the money for conservation and socio-economic developments that are democratically decided by the hunting community members through representative decision-making meetings.”
Meanwhile, Chieftainess Banika has appealed to the British government parliamentarians ahead of the Friday, March 17 2023 decisive debate on the proposed trophy hunting imports ban bill, to support international hunting.
“The British parliamentarians should not ban trophy hunting imports in the UK but rather be our advocates,” she said.
Chieftainess Banika, who has vowed to continue speaking for the interests of the wildlife-rich Pandamantenga hunting community, said that: “International hunting is not a hobby but a very important economic activity to hunting communities.”
She said that international hunting “…is used as a wildlife management tool…” to control wildlife populations within the carrying capacities of their different ecosystems.
Chieftainess Banika said that Southern African hunting communities, including those from Botswana, use international hunting revenue to finance wildlife and habitat conservation. They protect their valuable wildlife in the same way that businesspeople spend money to protect their assets and later make more money out of them.
In a recent interview, Lillian Shango, a Pandamantenga Community resident said no-one had the right to tell them what to do with their animal resources.
“Leave us to continue hunting because international hunting is bringing economic development to our community,” she said, reacting to ongoing Western animal rights groups fundraising industry NGOs’ attempts to influence Western countries to ban the import of hunting trophies.
“If you say international hunting must be stopped, how do you want us to survive and where do you want us to go, in order to find a means to survive?”
A young university graduate being groomed to become a future leader, Satau, said that the most high-impact conservation and development projects supported by international hunting income that he has observed over the years in Botswana’s hunting communities include “…direct revenue generation to support community social welfare services and employment opportunities.”
Elsewhere in the wildlife-rich Botswana hunting community, Nchunga-Nchunga of one of Botswana’s richest hunting communities, the Chobe Enclave, said: “Local hunting communities are benefitting a lot from international hunting with wildlife and habitat conservation being one of the major wildlife management activities.”
Nchunga-Nchunga, who is also a committee member of the Chobe-Caprivi Conservancies, said that hunting “…is one of the most effective conservation tools.”
“You hunt the animals so that you don’t overpopulate the area,” he said.
“Apart from generating income, international hunting is helping create employment in hunting communities.”
As the international hunters fly into Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, as well as towns such as Chobe and Maun; they soon disappear in the country’s wilderness areas to hunt wildlife. Awaiting them at hunting lodges where they stay and dine are local people employed as chefs, waitresses, car-washers, housekeeping staff, professional hunters and trackers.
Some of the most talented trackers and professional hunters come from the hunting communities.
This means that quite a number of them are employed in the hunting industry. They use their income to support their families and send their children to schools. This helps to alleviate poverty.
Nchunga-Nchunga said that the benefits from international hunting include revenue that is used by communities to develop community infrastructure.
“In 2022, in my community, the Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust, we earned P4,6 million (over US$350 000). The money was used to meet the communities’ socio-economic needs such as building churches, houses, mortuaries, supporting socio-economic and habitat as well as wildlife conservation projects.”
Nchunga-Nchunga denounced the animal rights groups fundraising industry NGOs for opposing international hunting because “…they don’t know anything about international hunting’s solid and sustainable support for wildlife and habitat conservation as well as socio-economic development in Botswana and in other wildlife-rich Southern African communities”.
Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning environmental journalist who writes extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.