Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Discussion on Elephant Management and poaching topics
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Post by Lisbeth » Thu May 23, 2019 9:55 am

There are ways in between which could have been chosen and they have done this far too quickly. I am not sure that they have considered all the options :evil:
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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Lisbeth » Thu May 23, 2019 11:01 am

Botswana, Country With Most Elephants, Lifts Ban on Hunting

By Bloomberg• 22 May 2019 Elephants

Botswana, which has the world’s biggest population of elephants, lifted its suspension on hunting, a move that is likely to spark further debate on a politically charged issue in the southern African nation.

The government would ensure that “reinstatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner” and in accordance with the law and regulations, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said in emailed statement Wednesday.

The number of elephants in Botswana has almost tripled to 160,000 since 1991, increasing conflict between farmers and the animals, which at times destroy crops and kill villagers.

Critics, including former President Ian Khama, say the drive is geared to win rural votes in an October election and could damage tourism, which accounts for a fifth of the economy.

The Botswana Wildlife Producers Association welcomed the decision. “Conservation of our species is paramount, but communities’ rights and livelihoods are as important as the species itself,” spokeswoman Debbie Peak said in a text message.

Other conservationists say Botswana is one of the animal’s last safe havens in Africa and believe President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s motives for lifting the ban were political. Support for his Botswana Democratic Party, in power since independence from the U.K. in 1966, reached a record low of 46% in the last vote in 2014.

Lifting the ban would appeal to villagers struggling to keep elephants out of their fields and boost Masisi’s popularity ahead of general elections in October. 3

Most of Botswana’s elephants live in the country’s northeast and regularly cross into Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia, which have large populations of their own.
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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Lisbeth » Fri May 24, 2019 10:45 am

Botswana is re-legalising hunting elephants because it says they're causing chaos by killing livestock and fighting with people

Sinéad Baker , Business Insider US
May 23, 2019, 03:06 PM

Botswana banned the hunting of elephants last year, but has now changed its mind.

- Botswana has reversed a ban on elephant killings, and says the population has gotten so big they're overwhelming farmers.

- Botswana has 130,000 elephants, more than any other country on the planet. The country's Environment Ministry says the levels need to be controlled to protect humans.

- Rising human-elephant conflict in Botswana has caused the death of livestock, and damaged the livelihoods of many Botswanan citizens, the government said.

- Elephants in conflict with people around the world are "raiding crops, killing livestock, destroying water supplies, demolishing grain stores and houses, injuring, and even killing people," the International Union for Conservation of Nature said.

- While Botswana's elephant population is booming, the Great Elephant Census found Africa's elephant population has dropped 30% over the last 15 years.

- Poaching has been cited as the number one reason why the population has declined, and Botswana has promised to make sure the elephants are killed ethically.

Botswana, home to the world's largest elephant population, has lifted its ban on hunting elephants, claiming that their population growth was leading them into conflict with humans and affecting farmers.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi lifted the ban introduced by his environmentalist predecessor, according to a statement from the country's environment ministry on Wednesday.

It said that "the number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing" and that "predators appear to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers."

The International Union for Conservation of Nature said that the number of conflicts between human and elephants in Africa is increasing as their habitat shrinks and "elephants get confined into smaller pockets of suitable habitat".


It noted that elephants can harm local communities by "raiding crops, killing livestock, destroying water supplies, demolishing grain stores and houses, injuring and even killing people".

But it said that these costs "greatly outweigh the potential benefits" of maintaining the elephant population, and notes that elephants can be an asset to local communities.

Here's a government video explaining the issue:

phpBB [video]

Botswana is home to around 130,000 elephants, which is around one third of Africa's elephant population, according to the Great Elephant Census. The IUCN includes the African elephant on its list of threatened species.

Botswana introduced the ban in 2014, but President Masisi formed a committee to review the ban in June 2018 after he was elected.

In February, the committee recommended lifting the hunting ban.

Botswana is home to around 130,000 elephants.
Flickr/Diana Robinson

While Botswana is home to more elephants than any other country in Africa, Africa's elephant population fell by around 30%, around 144,000 elephants, between 2007 and 2014, the Great Elephant Census found.

Poachers seeking ivory treasures to sell on the black market are the main cause of this decline, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) say.

The Environment Ministry added it will seek to discourage illegal elephant slaughter, and "work with all stakeholders to ensure that re-reinstatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner".
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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Lisbeth » Wed May 29, 2019 12:00 pm


Botswana’s elephants: myths vs facts


Botswana president, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, recently hosted a summit in Kasane for five southern African heads of state to forge a common regional elephant conservation policy. Since Masisi took over it has been proposed to rescind the hunting moratorium imposed under Ian Khama, in 2014.

The Kasane conference did not make a final decision on hunting in Botswana, but the speakers articulated a number of myths that support the consumptive “sustainable use” of elephants, which the world – and most African Elephant range states – have turned their backs on.

This article dispels these myths:

1. Botswana’s elephant population has surged to 160,000 from 55,000 in 1991. Other souces say 130.000 :-?

This is the subtext for the claim that there are ‘too many elephants.’ But it is false on both fronts. In 1983, Botswana’s elephant population numbered between 70,000 and 75,000. It had certainly not dropped to 55,000 by 1991. The latest scientific survey of Northern Botswana, which estimates the population to be roughly 126,114, which is not materially different from the 2014 figure. In other words, the population is stable, not growing. Moreover, the 2014 figure reflected a 15% decline during the preceding decade.

2.Botswana has exceeded its ‘carrying capacity’ of 54,000 elephants.

This is based on the idea of a landscape being able to handle only 0.4 elephants per square kilometre, which comes from an outdated Hwange Game Reserve management policy that had no scientific basis, says Conservation expert, Ian McDonald. The concept of “carrying capacity” has no relevance for vast, unfenced wilderness landscapes that adapt and can maintain integrity without human intervention.

A large number of scientists wrote in the peer-reviewed journal, Ambio, that they did not see ‘any ecological reason to artificially change the number of elephants in Chobe National Park, either through culling or opening new dry season ranges.’ What matters is not ‘carrying capacity’ but dispersion and concentration of elephant herds. Hunting and fences create concentration, which leads to vegetation damage. Even then, the ecological benefits that elephants provide more than compensate for small areas of vegetation damage.

3. Hunting will solve the “population explosion problem”.

The truth is that hunting only targets the big tuskers, thus destroying genetic diversity. Elephant trophy hunting is typically rationalised on the grounds that it only eliminates old bulls that are ‘surplus’ to herd requirements. Such small-scale elimination would therefore obviously be incapable of controlling a population, especially given that Botswana only permitted the export of 800 elephants( of which only approximately 340 were actually hunted)per year in the decade prior to the hunting ban.

Moreover, there is no such thing as ‘surplus’ elephants. Dr Michelle Henley writes that ‘in the past, bulls over 50 years of age were considered redundant but more recent studies have found that bulls do not reach their sexual prime until they are over 45 years old.’

4. Bringing back hunting will solve human and elephant conflict (HEC) and increase benefits to local communities.

Proponents of hunting argue that it generates revenue that accrues directly to local communities and thus disincentivises both poaching and the killing of errant crop-raiders. But hunting is rooted in colonial anthropology that castigated indigenous people groups as ‘poachers’ and colonialists as ‘hunter-conservationists’. So, the colonial hunting fraternity established fortress conservation, which displaced and disempowered local communities, but now paints itself as the saviour of people and elephants.

HEC can be mitigated through bees and chilli solutions, or combination thereof. Safe migratory corridors can also be established in which human settlement is limited. Ultimately, if communities are empowered to earn and receive benefits from elephants being alive (good for sustainable photographic tourism), HEC would become manageable.

Hunting is not the answer, as the global hunting industry is in decline and is fundamentally unsustainable in open systems.

5. The hunting moratorium led to increased poaching.

The false logic is that poaching has increased in the wake of hunting’s absence, and the latter must therefore be the cause of the former. However, poaching only started to increase in 2017, three years after the moratorium was imposed. Poaching may well have been minimised if former hunting concessions had been re-allocated timeously to allow photographic safari expansion.

6. Renewed trade in ivory will alleviate poaching and fund conservation.

Trading in ivory will not necessarily bring prices down and thereby end poaching. This is a naïve view based on the argument that prohibition never works. The legal trade would simply serve as a cover for illegal trade and money derived from official ivory sales would not necessarily accrue to conservation or to empowering local communities to drive conservation and

In the final analysis, the southern African countries represented at the Kasane Conference appear intent on moving against science and cogent argument. As a physical emblem of President Masisi’s embrace of consumptive use and rejection of being lectured to by ‘westerners’, he gifted his fellow heads of state with elephant footstools.

Read otiginal article here:
https://bulawayo24.com/index-id-opinion ... 62855.html
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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Lisbeth » Fri May 31, 2019 12:21 pm

Botswana trophy hunting: Fewer than 400 elephant hunting licenses to be granted annually, says government

Posted on 24 May, 2019 by News Desk in Hunting, News, Wildlife and the News Desk post series.


Following the decision to lift the hunting ban, the Botswana government has stated that fewer than 400 elephant hunting licenses will be granted annually and that “hunting will be allowed on a small, strictly controlled basis”.

In an emailed statement released on Wednesday, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said that the country would ensure that the “reinstatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner”.

Botswana currently boasts the largest African elephant population with what is believed to be more than 130,000 individuals roaming freely in its unfenced parks and wide-open spaces. According to the government, the growing conflict between humans and elephants, and the negative impact of the hunting suspension on people’s livelihoods, contributed towards the decision to reinstate hunting.

Besides hunting, one of the recommendations brought forward by the sub-committee to resolve the human-elephant conflict was to practice the regular culling of elephants and establish elephant meat canning for the production of pet food and other products. This recommendation was rejected as “culling is not considered acceptable given the overall continental status of elephants. Rather, a more sustainable method such as selective cropping should be employed,”said Onkokame Kitso Mokaila, the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism.

Further details regarding the reinstatement of hunting and its implementation were shared by Mokaila in a news conference held yesterday, as well as in a subsequent press release.

Some of the key points regarding the reinstatement of hunting include the following:

• Hunting will be strictly controlled and that allocations will be based on quotas, with priority given to community based organisations and trusts in the allocation of hunting quotas.

• Local hunters will be required to obtain licences and hunting will be allowed only within certain ranges.

• An effective hunting quota allocation system shall be developed based on science.

• The hunting quota includes all wildlife currently reflected in Schedule 7 of the Wildlife and National Parks Act of 1992. This includes not only elephants, but also lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, buffaloes, as well as a number of other species.

• An effective community outreach programme within areas where human-elephant conflict are present will be established.

• Human-wildlife conflict fences will be constructed in key hotspot areas.

• Game ranches will be created to act as buffer zones between humans and the wildlife.

In addition, all migratory routes for animals that are not considered beneficial to Botswana’s conservation efforts will be closed, including an antelope migratory route into South Africa.

See below for full press release

Sourced from the Botswana Government Facebook page


1. In June 2018, a Presidential Sub-Committee of Cabinet was tasked to initiate a social dialogue aimed at reviewing the ban on hunting. The process entailed a nationwide process including holding Kgotla meetings, consultation with Local Authorities as well as other stakeholders.

2. The fundamental issue that emerged was the appreciation by citizens that they were being consulted. This was seen as necessary for building on the national principles of: Democracy, Development, Self-reliance, Unity and Botho.

3. Some of the findings of the Cabinet Sub Committee on Hunting Ban and Social Dialogue were as follows:

i) The number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing;

ii) Predators appear to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers;

iii) There is a negative impact of the hunting suspension on livelihoods, particularly for community based organisations that were previously benefiting from consumptive utilisation;

iv) The lack of capacity within the Department of Wildlife and National Parks leads to long response time to problem animal control reports; and

v) The general consensus from those consulted was that the hunting ban should be lifted.

4. On the basis of these issues, The Government has assessed all these recommendations and has accepted all but one recommendation which makes reference to regular culling of elephants and establishing an elephant meat canning including production of pet food. This was rejected because culling is not considered acceptable given the overall continental status of elephants. Rather, a more sustainable method such as selective cropping should be employed.

5. Therefore the principal recommendation that has been adopted is the one which proposes the re-instatement of hunting.

(i) Essentially:

• Hunting will be allowed on a small, strictly controlled basis, with fewer than 400 elephant licenses to be granted annually, as has been approved by CITES.

• Priority will be given to Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and Trusts in allocation of hunting quotas (over 50% of quota to be given to CBOs and Trusts).

• Hunting will be re-instated only in designated Concession Hunting Areas (CHAs.)

• There will be equitable distribution of citizen hunting quota.

• Citizen hunting license shall not be transferable.

• An effective hunting quota allocation system shall be developed based on science;

• Animals to be included in the hunting quota shall be those currently reflected in Schedule 7 of the Wildlife and National Parks Act of 1992.

• Special game license will not be re-instated due to existence of other government social safety nets to cover for such

(ii) A legal framework that will create an enabling environment for growth of safari hunting industry will be developed;

(iii) The Botswana elephant population will be managed within its historic range;

(iv) An effective community outreach programme within the elephant range for Human Elephant Conflict mitigation will be undertaken;

(v) Strategically placed human wildlife conflict fences will be constructed in key hotspots areas;

(vi) Game Ranches will be demarcated to serve as buffers between communal and wildlife areas;

(vii) Compensation for damage caused by wildlife, ex gratia amounts and the list of species that attract compensation be reviewed; and other models that alleviate compensation burden on government be considered;

(viii) All wildlife migratory routes that are not beneficial to the Country’s conservation efforts will be closed;

(ix) The Kgalagadi south westerly antelope migratory route into South Africa will be closed by demarcating game ranches between the communal areas and Kgalagadi Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).

6. In all the actions taken, whether for or against any recommendations, the guiding principles were: the need to conserve our natural resources, the need to facilitate human wildlife co-existence; and scientific management of our elephants and other wildlife species.

7. All the above notwithstanding, Government shall continue to monitor the situation and may cause for periodic review of the recommendation approved. In doing so, Government shall endeavour to consult the affected communities, community leadership, non-Governmental Organisations, etc.

8. Botswana Government is convinced that tourism can be fully exploited sustainably to benefit the economy.

Sustainable tourism calls for the development of tourism policies that assure the safeguarding of social, cultural and natural resources and guarantee that these assets can meet the needs of present and future populations and tourists.

It is for this reason that Government has also approved strategies for facilitating citizen participation in the tourism sector. The strategy has several models which advocate for, among others:

i) The allocation of existing vacant concessions and identified sites solely to citizen companies, joint ventures, community trusts and community of citizen consortia;

ii) Where existing concession operators issue more than 25% of shareholding to citizen companies, consortia, joint ventures or community trusts, a fixed period lease of 30 years be issued under the new leaseholding;

iii) Land allocated to citizens through tourism citizen economic empowerment model be used as collateral by allottees to secure shareholding and or partnerships.

Thank you.

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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Klipspringer » Mon Jun 10, 2019 8:18 pm

Ron Thompson has one point in this article: Hunting won't do anything about the elephant management. On this one I agree, as for the rest, well ... I am not convinced that his yesteryear approach of carrying capacity and stable habitats will do the trick to protect biodiversity.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article ... conundrum/

Botswana’s elephant conundrum
By Ron Thomson• 10 June 2019

Everybody, it seems, is an expert when it comes to Botswana’s management of its elephants. President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s lifting of the hunting ban has given animal rights groups plenty of cannon fodder. But, argues controversial wildlife management expert Ron Thomson, if we are to save the habitat that nurtures and sustains not just elephants, but all wildlife in the area, a massive reduction in the elephant population is both inevitable and desirable.
When elephants fight, it is the grass (and the trees and shrubs) that suffer

I have lived all my adult life in the service of Africa’s national parks and its wildlife. And I despair over the amount of disinformation that the uninformed media spreads about wildlife and its management needs, seemingly for the sole purpose of influencing public opinion. And the only losers are the wild animals that everybody purports to care so much about — provided it is their point of view that holds precedence.

The latest wildlife controversy is the pronouncement by the new Botswana President, His Excellency, Mokgweetsi Masisi, that he is going to reopen elephant hunting — which was stopped by his predecessor, Ian Khama, in 2014. This has brought a mountain of vilification on to Masisi’s head and so-called “elephant management experts” have crept out from under every available bush to add their opinions to the debate. Ross Harvey (Daily Maverick, 29 May 2019) is one.

A great deal has been mentioned about the possibility of there being “too many elephants” in Botswana and the pro-hunting lobbyists have argued that hunting is a legitimate way to reduce their excessive numbers. Hunting will, of course, reduce the numbers of elephants in Botswana by however many are killed by hunters, but — and here I have to agree with the animal rightists’ statements — hunting will have no ecological impact whatsoever on the elephant over-population problem that certainly exists.

Elephant management in Botswana has nothing to do with hunting. It has nothing to do with politics. It has nothing to do with the opinions of animal rightists or animal welfarists. It has everything to do with establishing a “best practice” management solution to a population of elephants that is very obviously grossly in excess of its habitat’s sustainable carrying capacity.

Elephant management in Botswana is all about saving Botswana’s national parks from total destruction and it is about preserving for posterity Botswana’s once-rich biological diversity — which has been severely mauled for many years by too many elephants.

How do we know there are too many elephants in Botswana? We know that this is so because there are people alive today who will testify to the fact that the elephants, since 1960 (before and after), have totally demolished most of the pristine habitats that once existed in that country. I am one of those people.

I am indebted to Professor Brian Child for sending me notes written by himself and by his late father, Dr Graham Child, on the subject of elephant-induced habitat damage in Botswana (particularly in the Chobe) dating back to 1960. To these notes I have taken the liberty of adding a few small comments of my own:

The late Dr Graham Child worked for the FAO in Botswana in the 1960s and was greatly responsible for the creation of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

He writes about “building a small house on the banks of the Chobe River near the present park gate”. Set among huge riverine trees, this ‘house’ over-looked the dense reedbeds of the Chobe floodplain, and it could not be seen from the nearby road because of thick bush.

Professor Brian Child writes of this house: “The dense bush is (now) gone. The reedbeds are no more. The ruins of the house are now clearly visible from the road. Indeed, Botswana’s ecosystems have experienced radical change since the 1960s… nowhere more visible than (on) the Chobe river front.”

In 1965, Graham counted 299 trees, comprising 17 species, of “big, impressive giants lining the river in a demarcated transect” near his camp on the Chobe. By comparison, in 2007 there were 324 “woody plants” in the same transect, but 270 of these were the scrubby bush, Croton megalobotrus (which nothing eats).

Only four of the 152 Acacia nigrescens (knob thorn trees) had survived (by 2007), and six tree species had disappeared altogether. Furthermore, whereas there were no quick-growing weed-like crotons in 1965, they made up 83% of the trees in 2007. Knob thorns, that had constituted 51% of the woodland species in 1965 were then down to 1.3%; and five species of “slow-growing large riverine tree species” had been extirpated.

Compared to the state of affairs that existed in 1965, by 2007 there were substantial increases in elephant, impala, kudu and giraffe, but the general diversity of wildlife was woefully down with serious declines in warthog and sable. There was no sign at all of the famous Chobe bushbuck, puku and wildebeest; and we suspected that waterbuck, tsessebe and perhaps roan and sable too, were much reduced in number.

The tendency for elephants to feed upon and/or to damage particular tree species in given areas was widespread in the Chobe Reserve. In 1963, the majority of mukwa trees (Pterocarpus angolensis) and mugongo-nut trees, were ring-barked in an area just to the north of the Ngwezumba Bridge. In 1965, virtually all the Kirkia and Commiphora trees were pushed over in a large area on the face of the sand ridge west of Ihaha.

That same year, 1965, only one of the 124 lone Acacia tortillis (haak-en-steek) trees — previously counted throughout the mopani woodlands in the eastern Mababe — had been pushed over by elephants. Many of the old majestic camel thorn trees (Acacia erioloba) around the Savuti Channel and to the north of the Gubatsa hills were also killed by elephants that same year; or in the next one.

The once-magnificent riparian strip along the Chobe River with its attendant species of birds and small mammals had all but disappeared by 2007, except where it was protected by the old park headquarters, and even there it is (still) under threat. When we (the Childs) left Kasane at the end of 1965, there was a magnificent belt of (woodland) mainly camel-thorn trees running up the length of the Sedudu Valley (where Selous camped in 1874), but the elephants had already started to work on them. Today, virtually all of those 600-odd, 400-year-old, trees have now gone.

By 2007, the mopani forests of the Moremi — once reminiscent in size and grandeur of the old oak forests of Europe — had been trashed, and six of the 14 tree species recorded in 1965 had disappeared. They included Ziziphus mucronata; Diospyrus mespiliformis; Kigelia africana (pinata); Acacia albida; Acacia galpinii; and Acacia erioloba. Many of these are big, impressive trees (all eaten by elephants). Three species not previously present have colonised the area: Markhamia obtusfolia; Markhamia zanzibarica; and Caparis tomentosa (a vine that grows into the tree layer of woodlands, but can be self-supporting). The biggest change, however, is in the replacement of knob thorn trees by Crotron megalobotrus (which is now the dominant species).

Dr Graham Child and Professor Brian Child are two eminent scientists with loads of academic training and practical experience, and great knowledge about managing Africa’s national parks and, particularly, Africa’s elephants. They are not fly-by-night armchair ecologists who manipulate so-called scientific statements (made by often unnamed scientific “experts” and by other people with no practical experience in elephant management) in support of their own personal preference opinions and without any concern for the harm that they are doing to wildlife management in Africa.

So, I hope the “Child Observations” will be accepted by the readers of this article as fact.

Ross Harvey’s statement that a large number of scientists (not named) “did not see any ecological reason to artificially change the number of elephants in Chobe National Park” is, actually, therefore, just hyperbole.

So is his statement:

“Much of the research community and many managers (also not named) accept that ecosystem structure and function are not about elephant numbers but, instead, about elephant distribution across a landscape and in relation to plant communities.”

Harvey claims, inter alia, that elephants are important in natural ecosystems (which fact I don’t dispute) because, he says, “they deposit seeds up to 90km away from the areas in which they feed, and because of that fact, elephants cause the regeneration of vegetation elsewhere.” I have to ask him — and here I use my own 50 years of practical wildlife management experience in the field — where do these seeds come from when the trees that once produced them have all been destroyed by too many elephants?

Why do once very common trees like the marula (Sclerocarya caffra) not bristle like the hairs on a dog’s back all over our game reserves? The marula fruit is greatly favoured by elephants. Indeed, the whole tree is eaten by them right down to the roots. So, why has the marula tree become (or is becoming) locally extinct in all our national parks? It has become locally extinct — like every other tree species that the elephants favour — because every one of their seedlings that rear their heads above the ground is very quickly snaffled up by whatever elephant passes them by.

Harvey also claims that “carrying capacity” is an arbitrary factor in the science of wildlife management and is outdated. He, and those he quotes, are wrong.

Carrying capacity is the only factor that can give us any idea of the size that an elephant population should be when “best practice elephant management” is our objective.

So let’s ignore the fairy tales and let’s get down to quoting some facts.

Wildlife management is the action that man takes to achieve a man-desired objective. There is nothing “natural” about wildlife management. It is an artefact of man. It is:

Man conceived;

Man designed;

Man implemented;

Man manipulated; and

Man is the principal beneficiary.

Why is man the principal beneficiary? Because it is man’s objective that is achieved.

And why is this important? It is important because it is ludicrous to expend energy in any pursuit unless you are working towards achieving a clearly defined objective. And this is where the mindset of everybody who has ever participated in this elephant management debate has gone off course.

The primary wildlife management objective for our national parks is to “maintain species diversity”. In a nutshell, that means our national park management authorities have to make sure that no species of plant or animal, no matter how large or small, becomes extinct. Nothing else matters. Our primary consideration when managing our national parks, therefore, is to achieve this objective.

Elephants, tourism, and personal-preference opinions are all subjugated to this basic desideratum. Consideration of any and all other such matters only come into play when the national park ecosystem is stable and when no species is under threat. And that is the mandate that Parliament handed down to SANParks — South Africa’s National Parks Board of old — a long time ago. Furthermore, this is a universal requirement of all governments and their national park authorities. So, when the public want to question our national park authorities, it should only be to ask if they are achieving their clearly defined objective. And, in that regard, they are clearly not.

Harvey’s arguments about the rights and wrongs of elephant management proposals in Botswana (and elsewhere) — and those others who have pontificated so royally on this controversial subject in recent years — are, therefore, all way off beam, because the real argument has nothing to do with elephants.

Governments everywhere have been negligent (except in Botswana). They have ignored their own parliaments’ demands to maintain species diversity. So, they have lost both direction and impetus. Today, all over southern Africa, our national parks are being managed as “elephant sanctuaries” — at great cost to biological diversity. And we should all be ashamed of ourselves for having allowed this to happen.

It has happened because society has been cowed by aggressive animal rights propaganda, and everyone has succumbed to irrational and uninformed public opinion. The public — and governments everywhere — need to understand that you cannot manage wildlife by way of public referendums.

Today, governments will not cull even the most excessive of elephant populations “because the public disapproves of culling”. What nonsense! And because of that fact, we are destroying every single facet of biological diversity in our national parks. Where is our intestinal fortitude? It has gone to wherever mankind’s common sense has been pushed. Anarchy, therefore, looms.

Everyone who has any modicum of interest in nature will tell you that animal species are especially adapted to specific habitat types and that they will occur, survive and/or thrive in no other. The importance of maintaining nature’s diversity of habitats in a healthy and stable state, therefore, is far more important than trying to keep different animal species, per se, alive.

Indeed, you don’t have to worry about keeping animal species alive if their habitats are intact. If an animal’s habitat is healthy and safe from damage, the animal species will be able to look after itself without much assistance from man.

Real wildlife management experts — like Professor Koos Bothma — will tell you that healthy soils produce healthy habitats produce healthy animals. Only a fool would think otherwise. And the more diverse and healthy your habitat spectrum is, the more kinds of wild animal species will survive in those habitats and thrive. So, properly managing the soil (because without soil no plants will grow) is man’s first wildlife management priority. Looking after and maintaining healthy habitats is man’s second-most important responsibility. The animals come last in man’s hierarchical list of wildlife management responsibilities; not because they are unimportant, but because they are less important than the soil and plants.

And that is the crux of wildlife management.

When you read about the elephant and the habitat experiences in Botswana in the 1960s — from people like Graham and Brian Child — it must be obvious to every intelligent person that too many elephants completely destroy essential natural habitats of many kinds — and that as a consequence, both plant and animal species diversity is lost; that productivity all round is lost; and that tourism will be adversely affected, too.

When you learn that in South Africa’s Kruger National Park (since 1960) “more than” 95% of that sanctuary’s top-canopy woodland trees have been “destroyed by too many elephants”, you need to truly comprehend the significance of the overall habitat changes that that event has brought to Kruger.

In just one dimension — think — that for every tree that still stands alive in Kruger National Park today, 20 trees stood alongside each one of those same trees, fewer than 50 years ago. And then tell me that no habitats have been adversely affected because of too many elephants; that no plant species have been lost; that no animal species have been forced into extinction; that no elephant population “adjustment” needs to happen; that hunting, as a management tool, should not be allowed; and that massive elephant population reduction is not necessary.

I am advised that the planned Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Park (Kaza TFP) over the five countries (Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe) — measures in size some 520,000km². The total elephant habitat area, however, must be reduced by at least the equivalent size of the Okavango Delta area — because elephants can’t live in “total swamp”. Without the swamps, this large dry-land area, however, I consider to be the elephants’ wet-season (expanded) home range.

The elephants’ dry-season home range in the Kaza Transfrontier Park will be considerably smaller and it is the dry-season home range that determines the elephant’s overall optimum population size. So, until we know the extent of the dry-season home range in all five countries it will not be possible to provide an estimate of the optimum elephant population size for this giant sanctuary.

I am fairly confident, however, that the elephant-carrying capacity (determined by the size of the dry-season home range only) for most national park habitats in the southern African region is in the vicinity of one elephant per 5km².

Nevertheless, if we use the wet season home range region (which we know to be 520,000km²) the absolute maximum number of elephants this whole region can carry is 104,000. And using the (more correct) dry-season home range size — which is probably half the size of the wet season home range — the number is probably no more than 52,000. Hwange National Park alone, in some years, might itself be carrying such a load. Just how many elephants Botswana, on its own, may be able to sustainably carry, I have no idea — but it is infinitely less than 50,000. If you determine the size of the Botswana dry-season home ranges, however, the reader can work out the optimum size for that country’s elephant population.

There is another factor that everyone should also consider — and that is the fact that the habitats should be “rested” after 60 years of total abuse and heavy destruction by too many elephants. (Remember what happened in the Chobe!) The habitats will need several years of “under-use” (as opposed to “over-use”) to start their recovery towards a healthy state of climax — or near-climax — as was their condition in the 1950s.

And for those readers who believe that such drastic action will force the elephant into extinction, do not fear. Elephants living in rejuvenating habitats, with lots of available nutrition, will double their numbers every 10 years. So they will very soon thereafter require to be heavily culled once again. Also, if you reduce the elephant population by 50% consider this: You will be, immediately, doubling the biomass of food for consumption by those elephants that survive the population reduction-management ordeal. They say every cloud has a silver lining!

The management of elephants in the Kaza Transfrontier Park, therefore, is highly complex and fraught with all sorts of influences — including many differing human viewpoints. Nevertheless, I am in full support of the government of Botswana opening up elephant hunting again — because hunting is a good way to sustainably utilise the elephant resource in Botswana, and it will provide many benefits to the local rural folk.

The only management action that will solve the over-population problem, however, is massive elephant population reduction; and that management action is imperative! DM

Ron Thomson is a qualified field ecologist who has been working in Africa’s national parks and wildlife management systems for 58 years. He began as a cadet ranger with the Rhodesian Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management and went on to become Provincial Game Warden-in-charge of Hwange National Park. He was later the Chief Nature Conservation Officer, Ciskei, and then Director of the Bophuthatswana National Parks Board. He operated as a professional hunter for three years and is now a full-time author and journalist investigating and reporting on wildlife management in Africa, and is CEO of the True Green Alliance.

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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Lisbeth » Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:11 pm

Botswana’s Elephants Face a New Poaching Threat


Kasane, Botswana – Research by Elephants Without Borders (EWB) published 13 June in the journal Current Biology describes a new outbreak of elephant poaching for ivory in northern Botswana. They report that poachers killed an estimated 385 elephants in one year prior to EWB’s 2018 aerial survey. The paper includes photographic documentation of 156 poached elephant carcasses.

Botswana holds one-third of Africa’s remaining savanna elephants making it critical for elephant conservation. EWB’s aerial surveys in 2014 and 2018 revealed a stable elephant population, with approximately 126,000 elephants. But numbers of elephant carcasses increased by 21% from 2014-2018. Numbers of “recent” carcasses, less than one year since death, increased by 593% over that time.

To learn why carcass numbers increased, researchers used helicopters to visit 148 elephant carcasses and determine the cause of death. All recent carcasses, dead for less than one year, examined had been killed by poachers. Evidence of poaching was clear: skulls were essentially chopped in half with an axe to remove tusks, and most carcasses were covered with brush to hide them. Some poached elephants had cut marks on their spines where poachers tried to paralyze a wounded animal before taking the tusks.

In 2018, recent carcasses were clustered in five “hotspots.” In just one hotspot, the research team counted 88 poached elephants. From 2014-2018, elephant populations declined by 16% in the hotspots. Outside the hotspots, however, elephant populations actually increased by 10%. Elephants may be fleeing the hotspots for safer territory.

EWB also visited “old” carcasses in poaching hotspots, where elephant carcasses were clustered. These were likely dead for more than one year, but evidence of poaching was still obvious, as skulls chopped by poachers remained obvious. Of the 76 old carcasses visited, 62 (82%) were poached.

Dr. Michael Chase, the founder and director of EWB who led the aerial survey, said ‘the evidence in this paper is indisputable and supports our warning that elephant bulls are being killed by poaching gangs; we need to stop them before they become bolder.’

All poached elephants examined in the study were bulls, and most were aged 30-60 years. Poachers appearto be targeting these elephants for their large tusks. The ivory from a mature bull’s tusks may be worththousands of dollars on the black market.

‘EWB is making all of the evidence of elephant poaching public with this paper, including hundreds of photographs of elephant carcasses and our carcass survey data,’ said EWB’s lead analyst Dr. Scott Schlossberg. ‘We want to be transparent so that people can see for themselves what is happening in Botswana now.’

EWB conducted aerial surveys over 94,000 square kilometers (36,000 square miles) of prime elephant habitat in northern Botswana in 2014 and 2018. The two surveys entailed flying 61,800 kilometers (38,400 miles) while counting elephants and carcasses. Researchers flew thousands more kilometers in helicopters to visit carcasses.

Elsewhere in Africa, increases in elephant poaching similar to what is happening in Botswana have been followed by major reductions in elephant numbers as poaching devastates populations. The new poaching may be an early-warning sign that Botswana’s elephant population will be at greater risk in the near future.Poachers have already killed large numbers of elephants nearby in Angola and Zambia.

In Botswana, most of the poaching appears to be happening in just five hotspots. Those areas should be focal points for anti-poaching efforts and enhanced monitoring of elephant populations. Dr. Chase said, ‘I am confident that all stakeholders can work together to implement necessary measures to curtail poaching. In the end, Botswana will be judged not for having a poaching problem but for how it deals with it.’

EWB have shared their findings with the Botswana Government to aid law enforcement efforts in the affected areas.
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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Lisbeth » Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:37 pm

Botswana shoots itself in the foot


After Barack Obama came Donald Trump, a bigoted populist prone to crass outpourings and some peculiar legislative ideas. His time in office has reminded the world how prone humans are to gullibility and acts of shameful regression.


In a relapse of similar measures, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and his Botswana government have somehow contrived a justification to take the country backwards with the recently announced reintroduction of trophy hunting.

The formal declaration ends months of public discussion and rumour, often fired by an astonishingly ill-informed and partisan local press, and it follows earlier statements by officials of elephant culling programmes that come with meat canning and pet food factories.

Ostensibly done to improve socio-economic conditions in rural communities living alongside wildlife areas, and to halt the human-animal conflicts that arise, the decision, however, belies these motivations and points instead to a rather clumsy play to serve political expediency. It’s why they have been trying to secure the services of a Hollywood-based PR firm, an attempt that has failed with the contract being terminated due to gross misrepresentation by Botswana.

Few would argue against the governments wish to tackle the concerns expressed, or to improve on the shortcomings of previous administrations, and the record of ecotourism operators. However, to use a series of untruths, factual distortions and myths about elephants and their ecology to reintroduce trophy hunting as the solution is simply nonsensical. It is also highly irresponsible to pass on obligations to secure the future of both rural communities and the environment to a sector that is for the most part merely interested in killing elephants and other species for trophies.

What this move has done is blight over two decades of advancements made in the conservation and ecotourism sectors of the country, ones that have hitherto been held in high regard both locally and abroad.

And this record is one that should be trumpeted. In the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) 2018 Economic Impact report on Botswana, they point out the significant role the ecotourism industry plays in the overall economy. In 2018, the contribution reached US$2,5billion or 13.4% of the total economy, which translates to tourism accounting for one in every seven dollars in circulation. Of particular interest is the period between 2013, when trophy hunting was stopped, and 2018, which saw a 70% increase in GDP contributions from non-consumptive tourism.

In addition, tourism provides approximately 89 000 jobs, or 9% of the total workforce. And these are jobs that offer skills training, long term security and transferable career opportunities. Other than government activities, northern Botswana has no other economic sector to speak of, which means ecotourism accounts for the vast majority of employment and economic growth in this region.

These gains have come precisely because the country switched away from trophy hunting to develop non-consumptive tourism, and they have come on the back of the large elephant herds as well as a host of other drawcard species that roam what are for the most part well-managed protected areas. Speak to any safari operator and they will also tell you about the considerable goodwill dividend Botswana has enjoyed with visitors making choices over other destinations because of their no hunting policy.

Where is all this in the government’s reckoning? At every level of measurement, trophy hunting contributions are a fraction of a fraction of what non-consumptive ecotourism has achieved for the country. It is inconceivable that a government would ignore these successes and chose to take a course of action that may well end up eroding the gains, not to mention the gene pool of the very asset that forms the base of what could be their only sustainable economic sector.

Adding to the populist rhetoric has been the irrational attack on so-called Western or foreign conservation agencies and individuals opposing the new policy. In case the government hasn’t been listening, there is also widespread opposition to these moves across the continent. And maybe it’s worth reminding President Masisi that the impressive growth in the tourism industry has been built on the Dollars and Pounds of foreign visitors; WTTC reports that 73% of all travel spending is made by international visitors.

In addition, we also know that over 99% of the diamonds the country is as famous for have ended up in the hands of foreigners. And who does President Masisi think is coming to shoot the elephants and lions?

One has to believe the government is genuinely concerned about the plight of rural citizens. But then they are obligated to undertake the necessary research across all disciplines and sectors to fully understand the evolving nature of human population dynamics, settlement behaviour and the socio-economic challenges as well as the movement of elephants and other species in these regions.

Widespread education and awareness campaigns on the significant long-term benefits of the ecotourism industry would also help. And with the results, they then develop and implement a range of interventions that provide education, health-care, career prospects, safety from wildlife and other socio-economic benefits in a sustainable manner.

Reintroducing trophy hunting will have no impact on any of the government’s concerns as there is no correlation whatsoever between them and the ban introduced in 2013. These same issues were at play prior to 2013 when hunting was still in place. Trying to bluff the world otherwise is extremely short-sighted and akin to simply shooting oneself in the foot.

Read original article:
https://www.thesouthafrican.com/opinion ... -the-foot/
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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Lisbeth » Wed Jun 19, 2019 11:28 am

Elephant culling and hunting is a throwback to defending slavery


We have to pursue co-existence and shared benefits rather than a crude utilitarianism that wilfully endorses cruelty.

When I read Ron Thomson’s response to my article questioning the wisdom of reintroducing elephant trophy hunting to Botswana after a five-year moratorium, I was reminded of British abolotionist William Wilberforce’s opponents who defended the Atlantic slave trade on the grounds that it was a “necessary evil”.

John Pollock, who penned the epic Wilberforce biography, wrote:

“A Grosvenor uncle of Wilberforce’s young friend Lord Belgrave spoke third, arguing that the Trade was nasty but necessary; in Dolben’s summary: ‘…The wisest thing we can do is to shut our eyes, stop our ears and run away from the horrid sounds without enquiring about it, or words to this effect’.”

I invite Thomson to read the biography, as he might find echoes of this defence of slavery in the logic he applies to the ecological management of elephants. Defenders of slavery argued that its abolition would lead to an immediate loss of the British colonies. The colonial attitude, of course, remains pervasive among those who defend the trophy hunting of elephants. It is fascinating that those who defend hunting tend to argue that “the West”must stop lecturing Africans about how to manage their elephants. But it was Western hunters who shot elephants out to the point where Africans had to establish reserves, dispossessing and crowding out local communities in the process.

Fortress conservation and green militarisation are direct functions of past colonial activities. And a major part of the reason that local communities are so upset at being excluded from national parks has much to do with how they were established in the first place. Public relations efforts to paint trophy hunters as the imperial saviours of poor African communities are laughable.

As with colonialism and slavery, sport hunting of elephants will eventually be abolished. The history lesson is that Wilberforce won out, with the brutal slavery trade abolished 20 years after his battle had begun.

The hunting of elephants for sport is a similarly barbaric activity, with its proponents arguing that hunters kill the animals they love for the sake of conservation. This is a morally untenable position. Beyond that, the conservation value of hunting is being questioned, and its ostensible indirect benefit through monetary and bushmeat contributions to “communities” is rapidly declining.

Botswana reintroduced hunting on the premise that an exploding elephant population had exceeded its carrying capacity. But Thomson, having defended hunting his entire career, agrees that hunting is not a population-control method and “will have no ecological impact whatsoever on the elephant over-population problem that certainly exists”.

He argues that elephant management in Botswana has nothing to do with hunting or politics but everything to do with establishing a “management solution to a population of elephants that is very obviously grossly in excess of its habitat’s sustainable carrying capacity”. But he himself notes that hunting will not solve this purported problem, so it remains unclear as to what it has to do with establishing “best practice” for elephant management. Thomson appears to want to return to the grand old days of culling.

He cites no science in support of his view that carrying capacity has been exceeded. The anecdotal reference to his own experience and to the late Dr Graham Child’s notes are touching but do not make the “habitat destruction” argument self-evidently true. The “Child Observations”, as Thomson calls them, are factual, but seem to ignore the ecosystem engineering role that elephants play. Thomson cherry-picks these types of observations to defend the view that elephants are mere marauding habitat destroyers.

Thomson asked for the science – perhaps the hyperlinks in my article were not working – that “did not see any ecological reason to artificially change the number of elephants in Chobe National Park”; here it is: No fewer than 24 authors contributed to “The Return of the Giants: Ecological Effects of an Increasing Elephant Population” published in Ambio, a scientific journal, in 2004. The following quote may suffice:

“Much of the Chobe elephant problem has concerned the role of elephants in the disappearance of the riverine Acacia woodlands on the elevated alluvial plains along the Chobe River. As we have shown, these woodlands were probably a transient artefact, caused by artificially low densities of large herbivores following rinderpest and excessive hunting of elephants about 100 years ago, creating a window of opportunity for seedling establishment. Now that these woodlands have all but disappeared, their re-establishment would require drastic reductions in herbivore populations, including not only elephants, but also smaller browsers like impala.

“Our studies have confirmed that the ecosystem along the Chobe riverfront has changed profoundly since the 1960s, probably reverting towards a situation somewhat similar to the one before the excessive hunting of elephants and the rinderpest panzootic. There is, however, little evidence of a reduction in the carrying capacity for other large herbivores, in fact the dominating species of browsers, grazers and mixed feeders have increased in numbers concurrently with the elephants. We do not, however, see any ecological reason to artificially change the number of elephants in Chobe National Park, either through culling or opening new dry season ranges by providing extra water from boreholes.”

Further to this, 16 scientists co-authored a piece in Science Advances in 2015 that shows us that what Thomson refers to as “destruction” is more appropriately understood as conversion:

“African elephants convert woodland to shrubland, which indirectly improves the browse availability for impala and black rhinoceros. By damaging trees, African elephants facilitate increased structural habitat complexity benefiting lizard communities. Predation by large predators (for example, lions) on small ungulates is facilitated when African elephants open impenetrable thickets. African elephants are also great dispersers of seeds over long distances.”

Thomson asks where do “these seeds come from when the trees that once produced them have all been destroyed by too many elephants?” But this ignores seasonal variation. Elephants migrate and the trees (generally) recover.

Insisting on “carrying capacity” as the primary factor to determine elephant population size betrays Thomson’s worldview that “there is nothing ‘natural’ about wildlife management”. His view is that the natural order is there mainly to serve man. Eden would be a garden composed of Thomson’s calculations of what would best do this. That attitude subverts the call to steward responsibly to one of mere domination. Thomson laments that “today, all over southern Africa, our national parks are being managed as ‘elephant sanctuaries’ – at great cost to biological diversity” and that we should all be ashamed of ourselves for having allowed this.

As one might expect, Thomson can barely hide his love for culling, which he views as the only serious “management solution”. He is furious that “governments will not cull even the most excessive of elephant populations” and blames biological diversity destruction on this decision alone. Against all science, and reverting to the view that wildlife management is akin to managing an agricultural establishment, Thomson says the optimal carrying capacity in southern Africa is “in the vicinity of one elephant per 5km2”. Therefore, Botswana on its own may be able to sustainably carry “infinitely less than 50,000” – though he admits he doesn’t know. And, of course, we shouldn’t fear because elephants in rejuvenating habitats will double their population every 10 years and have to be culled again. His lust for culling on the altar of some utopian notion of species diversity protection is telling.

Thomson endorses hunting because “it will provide many benefits to the local rural folk”. But he really believes in mass culling as the only sustainable solution. It’s worth pointing out that culling is insane. Elephant populations in Africa are declining at the hands of poachers. Hunting will only amplify the negative effect of poaching, which also targets large tuskers. The removal of prime males from elephant families causes utter havoc and gene depletion, and culling makes everything worse, as I will show.

Culling actually creates a population problem rather than solving it. In the 20 years after the Kruger Park culling of 1994, the elephant population increased non-linearly from about 8,000 to 15,000 individuals and has continued to grow exponentially.

Perhaps it is most important for Thomson to understand that the culling of the past, much of it overseen by him, has caused irreparable damage to elephants and other species. It has been found that abilities to process information on social identity and age-related dominance are severely compromised among African elephants that experienced separation from family members and translocation decades previously.

Professor Don Ross writes:

“For a number of years, southern African wildlife managers culled [elephant]herds to prevent over-population from threatening habitat sustainability. Typically, culls would focus deliberately, though not exclusively, on older bulls who had already made substantial genetic contributions. In consequence, in two South African reserves in the 1990s young bulls were relocated to constitute new bachelor herds, without any older bulls to provide leadership. This had dramatic unexpected consequences. The young bulls displayed recurrent, atypical, lethal violence against rhinoceroses, and were occasionally observed forcing copulations with them.”

Thomson must surely be aware of these studies that provide detail of the negative effects of culling and the loss of older bull males for elephant herd sociology. In the context of a poaching epidemic, it does not make sense to allow the trophy hunting of older bulls, let alone to cull. Older bulls’ tusks grow exponentially larger towards the end of their lives and their musth cycles suppress the musth cycles of younger bulls and therefore prevent premature breeding and violent behaviour. Large tuskers are in severe decline, and must be heavily protected from trophy hunting and poaching, as Dr Michelle Henley has noted.

Furthermore, trophy hunting of elephants, never mind culling, raises serious moral questions. Thomson’s language is crudely utilitarian – elephant hunting and culling are seen as a means to an end, that end being a utopian bushveld garden free from vegetation transformation or “too many elephants”. The means are justified and rationalised on those grounds, typically with an appeal to “stick to the facts” or to “keep emotion out of the equation”.

Arguments that communities have called for hunting to return are not to be ignored. But to unthinkingly claim that only Western armchair critics are opposed to the practice is to ignore the fact that the whole trophy hunting endeavour (of elephants especially) is imperialistic and universally morally questionable. Aside from the moral questions and the conservation consequences of culling and hunting, it’s not clear that governance challenges associated with managing hunting have been solved. Will local “communities” get a fair share of hunting revenue (which is globally declining)? How will that money be distributed in a way that genuinely serves community members and incentivises them to drive conservation-driven development? If bushmeat is what communities are asking for, are there not feasible alternatives to trophy hunting?

I’m highly sympathetic to the voice of communities, and have written extensively on the topic but I am not sympathetic to elephant hunting as a solution unless the governance challenges are properly addressed and the science that shows how the extermination of 400 older males a year – in the midst of a poaching crisis – can be “sustainable” when the number of large tuskers is dwindling. The entire population is also in decline. Elephant-themed revenue creation projects, being pioneered on the ground by excellent outfits such as Eco-Exist, which aim to drive down human and elephant conflict, are surely the way forward.

It will probably be of no surprise to readers that Wilberforce was not only committed to ending the slave trade, but also campaigned tirelessly for education for the poor, parliamentary reform, compulsory inoculation against smallpox, and – with Thomas Erskine – the prevention of cruelty to animals.

Wilberforce argued coherently, from an objective worldview, that all forms of cruelty were intolerable. Thomson could learn much from this. It is not “scientific” or “objective” to divorce the material psychological consequences of culling and hunting elephants from “necessary ecological management”. The science shows us that disrupting elephant sociology is inextricably linked to negative conservation consequences. Increased aggression among elephants due to culling, hunting and poaching will only increase human and elephant conflict. We have to pursue co-existence and shared benefits rather than a crude utilitarianism that wilfully endorses cruelty.
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Re: Elephant Poaching, Census and Management in Botswana

Post by Lisbeth » Wed Jun 19, 2019 11:43 am


Botswana trophy hunting poached 385 elephants


At least 385 elephants were poached in the last year, however the Botswana government has just set an annual quota of 400 elephants to be killed by trophy hunters and proposes to amend the CITES listing of the African elephant to allow for trade in ivory.

“There has been an increase in poaching, that we admit”, said Kitso Mokaila (Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism) in a recent CNN interview. However, the government does not seem to fully accept the grave poaching levels that Botswana is now experiencing or the fact that trophy hunting will exacerbate this.

Evidence of a nearly 600% increase in fresh elephant carcasses, poached most likely during 2017-18, is presented in a peer reviewed paper “Evidence of a Growing Elephant Poaching Problem in Botswana”, published in the Current Biology journal.

Many of the elephant carcasses of suspected poaching victims found during the 2018 aerial survey, were verified on the ground by Dr Mike Chase and his Elephants Without Borders (EWB) team and all showed the horrific signs of poaching. Their skulls are hacked away with axes to remove the tusks and their mutilated bodies are covered with branches to literally conceal the evidence. Some elephants even had their spines severed to immobilise the animals that were obviously still alive while the poachers removed their tusks.

The poaching levels found by EWB during their aerial survey is extremely worrying. Chase (Founder and Director – EWB) said “the evidence in this paper is indisputable and supports our warning that elephant bulls are being killed by poaching gangs in Botswana; we need to stop them before they become bolder.

Every poached elephant found by Chase and his team was a mature bull between the age of 30-60 years old with large tusks that are worth many thousands of dollars on the black market.

Both poachers and trophy hunters have a clear preference for the largest and older bull elephants with the biggest tusks, which are mostly bulls older than 35 years. These bulls are incredibly important to the social fabric of the elephant population, to the photographic safari industry and to the long-term sustainability of trophy hunting industry itself.

However, is a hunting quota of 400 elephants, exacerbated by nearly as many poached bulls, sustainable?

The total mature bull population in Botswana is around 20,600, according to the EWB 2018 aerial survey. At best, 6,000 of those are bulls older than 35 years.

When President Mokgweetsi Masisi opens the trophy hunting season, Botswana could potentially lose 785 bulls to both trophy hunting and poaching. In other words, 13% of the mature and mostly sexually active bulls will be removed from the elephant population per year.

Hunters themselves believe that a quota of 0.35% of the total population, or approximately 7% of the mature bulls, is the maximum sustainable “off-take” without losing the highly desirable tusk size. However, this doesn’t take into account the additional “off-take” due to poaching, which makes the current quota in Botswana nearly double this” sustainable” level.


Even if poaching levels do not increase, it would take a mere 7-8 years to eliminate all mature bull elephants, which is obviously nowhere near sustainable.

The pro-hunting lobby will quickly argue that the poaching happens because the hunting concessions were left abandoned. However, poaching in Botswana only started to escalate some time during 2017, three full years after the hunting moratorium was put into place.

Natural population growth will slow down this impact, but in those areas where both hunting and poaching takes place, the mature bull population will be severely reduced, which will have a bearing on the social structure of those elephant populations.

Dr Michelle Henley (Director, Co-founder and Principal Researcher – Elephants Alive) says “older bulls have a higher paternity success, promote group cohesion, function as mentors within bachelor groups, and suppress musth in younger bulls”.

The latter is particularly important, as the absence of older bulls means that youngster come into musth too early, making them potentially more aggressive. This aggression could lead to increases in Human-Elephant Conflict, the very issue that the Botswana government hopes to reduce by reintroducing trophy hunting.

The long-term selective “off-take” of large tuskers also affects the genetic diversity of elephants, leading to populations with smaller tusks and even tuskless elephants. This change in genetics not only affects the long-term survival of these elephants, but also has direct consequences for the sustainability of the trophy hunting industry itself.

The illegal killing of elephants for their ivory has reached unsustainable levels across Africa, where the number of elephants illegally killed now exceeds the natural reproduction. It is estimated that one elephant is killed every 30 minutes.

Even though elephants have been massacred in most of Africa for some time now, Botswana’s elephant population has been more or less stable since early 2010 with a healthy population of about 126,000 elephants.

Chase said, “I am confident that all stakeholders can work together to implement necessary measures to curtail poaching. In the end, Botswana will be judged not for having a poaching problem, but for how it deals with it.”

SOURCE: Conservation Action Trust
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