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Botswana’s Bold Move: A Ban on Trophy Hunting by 2014

November 14, 2012

By Matt Artz

Botswana is an interesting case study in what a country can do right in Africa.  When Botswana first gained independence from the British in 1966, it had a GDP per capita of just $70.  A paltry 22 citizens out of a population of 2 million had graduated from college, and only about 100 were high school graduates.  The physical infrastructure was practically non-existent: in the entire country, there was less than 10 miles of paved roadway.

Soon after independence, diamonds were discovered in Botswana.  The country is now one of the world’s largest producers of diamonds, but has for the most part avoided the “resource curse”—the trap often seen where countries more heavily reliant on mineral exports experience more slowly growing economies.  This “curse” is actually a practical result of poor wealth management in the face of a windfall.  A poor country that suddenly finds itself sitting on one of the world’s largest diamond deposits is like a poor person struggling to pay their rent who suddenly wins $50 million in the lottery.  While it sounds like an amazing stroke of luck, rarely do these situations work out as well as envisioned for the country—or for the lottery winner.

But Botswana is one of those rare examples that bucks the trend.  It’s an amazing success story.  Careful management of its mineral wealth has transformed the country from one of the 25 poorest in the world to a thriving upper-middle income economy over the course of just a few decades.  By 2012, literacy had increased to near 80%, and GDP per capita had risen from $70 to an astounding $16,200.  Today, Botswana is one of the fastest growing—and least corrupt—countries in Africa.

One of the ways that Botswana managed to avoid the “resource curse” was to become less dependent on the revenues from the mining sector.  The country did this by pursuing a strategy of economic diversification.  And one of the keys to this strategy was to leverage its rich wildlife resources and abundant natural beauty for tourism.  In fact, tourism is now an important component of the economy, and its importance in growing every year.

In his State of the Nation address on November 5th, 2012, Botswana’s President, Lt. Gen. Ian Khama, doubled down on this strategy by declaring that by the end of next year Botswana will implement a complete ban on commercial hunting of wildlife on public lands:

Of additional concern is the rise in cross border and domestic poaching incidents and trafficking of live predators, which are the subject of our new and evolving National Anti-Poaching Strategy. At the same time we have reached the decision to stop the commercial hunting of wildlife in public areas from 2014 as the shooting of wild game purely for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve local fauna as a national treasure, which should be treated as such.”

It’s a bold move, but not unprecedented in Africa.  In 1976, Kenya instituted a similar ban.

While conservationists and photographic ecotourism operators have applauded Botswana’s move, it is not without controversy.  Some argue that a complete ban on trophy hunting is a recipe for disaster in terms of poaching, and point to Kenya’s ban as a case in point.  Prior to the ban, hunting concessions were granted for specific areas, and operators were responsible for managing their territories and controlling poaching.  With the ban on trophy hunting in 1976, the protection offered by the operators evaporated, and some observers say that poaching increased drastically thereafter.

In some areas of Botswana, such as the Tuli Wilderness in southeastern corner of the country, management of elephant populations has been so wildly successful that the animals are overrunning the area and beginning to damage the natural ecosystem.  Culling of wild animals is always a contentious proposition, but it’s a management technique that’s often necessary when humans significantly alter an ecosystem and need to stage interventions to regain a semblance of naturalness.  Some point out that commercial hunting of animals which will be killed by culling anyway is a win-win—it achieves the desired goal of reducing wild populations to a sustainable level while still contributing to the economy.

Will President Khama’s initiative have the desired result and “preserve local fauna as a national treasure”?  Will it damage the tourism industry as hunters choose vacations in other countries where hunting is still allowed?  Will it lead to an increase in poaching?  Only time will tell, but on a continent plagued by mismanagement, poverty, corruption, and resource problems, Botswana’s transition from away big game hunting to purely photographic ecotourism is yet another courageous move by a country with a remarkable track record.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2012 5:13 pm

    Thanks! It will be interesting to watch Botswanna’s progresssion and how it’s example can help shape the future.

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