Botswana today auctioned off the lives of 60 of its elephants, giving trophy hunters around the world a license to kill these gentle giants for fun.
This was the first elephant auction held since the country lifted a five-year ban on such hunts last year; it was conducted by a local auction company at the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism in the capital city of Gaborone. On offer were seven lots of 10 elephants each. The auctions could be followed online, and interested bidders had to put down a refundable deposit of 200,000 pula ($18,300).
By the end, six of the seven lots were sold to trophy hunting companies for a total of $2.35 million. These companies will, in turn, sell elephant hunts to globe-trotting trophy hunters.
Altogether, Botswana will allow 272 elephants to be trophy hunted this year. The hunts will take place in Botswana’s winter months between April and September, when the African bush is thinner and the animals are easier to spot, according to media reports.
This heartless trade in the very lives of such beautiful and beloved animals, known for their intelligence and for forming deep social bonds within their communities, goes against everything we now know about elephant conservation. Elephant populations in Africa have been dwindling for some time now, and a recently released census found that their numbers in savannah nations, including Botswana, declined by 30% (equal to 144,000 elephants) between 2007 and 2014, or by about 8% per year.
Against this background, Botswana’s ban, instituted in 2014 by then president and avid environmentalist Ian Khama, became a shining example for conservationists. In the years it was in effect, the ban is estimated to have saved nearly 2,400 elephants. However, Mr. Khama’s successor, Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, ended that ban last year, despite reports that elephants in his country are being increasingly targeted by poachers.
President Masisi has held out wildlife conflict as his reason for restoring the trophy hunts, but conservation scientists warn that poorly regulated trophy hunting can actually worsen such conflicts by disrupting animal groups and creating social chaos among their ranks. There are other peaceful and non-lethal ways to address human-wildlife conflict, including immunocontraception. Humane Society International has already shown the way forward on this in South Africa, where we have successfully used non-hormonal, non-steroidal, reversible population fertility control methods to humanely control the growth of elephant populations.
The Botswanan government has also claimed that the money made from trophy hunts will benefit local economies. But studies have shown time and again that local people rarely, if at all, receive any of the revenue from such hunts, which, much of the time, are skimmed off by corrupt government officials.
Trophy hunting is fast on the decline, as the world turns away from senseless and unnecessary violence toward wildlife. On the other hand, wildlife tourism is on the rise, with more and more people eager to spot, photograph and experience charismatic animal species in their natural habitats. Botswana’s decision to reopen trophy hunting will almost certainly have a negative impact on its wildlife tourism, which is now a major driver to the nation’s economy. Given these facts, we strongly urge the Masisi administration to restore the nation’s prohibition on trophy hunting and focus instead on growing and harnessing the economic value of wildlife tourism.