UK trophy hunting ban set to affect livelihoods of rural communities in Botswana

The Makgadikgadi National Park, on the side of the road leading to Phuduhudu towards Francistown, is home to elephant and other species. Picture: Supplied

The Makgadikgadi National Park, on the side of the road leading to Phuduhudu towards Francistown, is home to elephant and other species. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 16, 2024


According to authors Thomas Butynski and Wolfgang von Ritcher, Botswana is still endowed with a great variety of wildlife species, including a more than 100,000 elephant population, scores of impala, greater kudu, giraffe, antelopes, zebras, wildebeest and many others.

The oversupply of game in this country has ensured that the Botswana people make and earn their living from a variety of use of wildlife, as sometimes a single elephant feeds an entire village, and proceeds from European trophy hunters is equal to scarce but yet sustainable job opportunities.

It is even worse for the populations in the remoter parts of the country where no economic activity is possible except through opportunities brought by wildlife to supplement what can sometimes be a demanding survival-based economic life.

The two authors also reveal that, in times of great disaster, or when livestock suffer the consequences of conservation over livelihoods, they are forced to fall back on wildlife for their daily bread.

For such a country, the impending ban on the imports of the spoils of trophy hunting by the UK is more than a blow to their livelihoods. It is a personal attack on their very essence of their being, which is why the government of the country has slammed the latest development self-defeating and counter-productive.

“If you want people to conserve, give people an incentive to conserve so that on their own, they will look after the wildlife without any conflicts and involvement of government,” says minister of environmental affairs, Dumezweni Meshack Mthimkhulu.

This comes as the UK’s House of Commons is set to debate the possible adoption of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, a bill that has sent shock waves through Botswana and other SADC countries.

This past week, a group of journalists from countries such as Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe found themselves traversing the territories of Gaborone and parts of the Okuvango Delta, on the other side of the small tourist and safari inspired town of Maun, situated more than 364km from Gabarone, the Botswana capital.

This sojourn aimed at giving journalists a closer look at how the economy of some of the soon-to-be-affected rural communities including the community of Phuduhudu, located on Odendalsrust Farm in the Lobatse district of Botswana. This is a community made up of Khoi and San members who, if the ban comes into effect, will suffer even greater economic losses than after the 2014 ban, which was lifted in 2019.

In some areas, little economic activity is possible without any form of wildlife economy being factored in. Some students who want to study further are sponsored by community organisations such as Xhauxhwatubi Safaris, an organisation with great plans for the community of Phuduhudu. Some of the plans include a lodge and creating mobile safaris, as well as investing in local spaza shops to help community members earn a diversified living.

So here we were as journalists from the SADC region being invited to help spread the message about the effects an imminent UK ban on trophy hunting will have on the lives and livelihoods of Botswana’s thriving game industry, which employs at least 3 000 people.

One of these, is Daniel Motsepe, a community leader and a representative of Xhauxhatubi Safaris, a community-based organisation on the other side of the Makgadikgadi National Park where elephants, giraffes and other species wander about on sides of the road.

This is the part of Botswana where shimmering salt pans of collide with the scorching sun along with the Nxai Pans, which are believed to be the largest in the world. Most of the time these appear as glaring, white, endless plains. It is reported that during the rainy season they are one of the most important wetland areas in Botswana ‒ when they transform into stunning grass-plains.

On a Friday afternoon, following a 90-minute drive from Maun, we arrive at the headquarters of Xhauxhatubi Safaris just after making a brief stop at the chief’s offices. The latter is not around to welcome us as he is attending to other official duties.

We say our hi’s and bye’s and arrive at Xhauxhatubi Safaris to be greeted by a group of young women escort guides who tell us how invaluable earning a living as professionals has been to their lives.

One of these, is Baboloki Maizaira who says without this job her family of eight would starve to death.

“I am the sole breadwinner at home. No one works and if I do not work everybody else suffers.I feel the latest UK ban on trophy imports will take us back to a dark period in 2014 when a similar ban took away too much from us,” she says.

Mr Motsepe, her boss, had earlier indicated that for the community, working in this sector is the only thing that sustains them and with a series of joint ventures, they should be able to ensure a sustainable living for the entire community.

“We survive only through proceeds we receive from trophy hunting and safaris we organise for travelling tourists. If this ban were to be effected, we would lose our livelihoods, and we are still trying to recover from a previous ban which completely decimated our livelihoods and the opportunity to provide for our families. It is only recently that we have started to get back on our feet. We have acquired some new vehicles and land which we plan to turn into a lodge so that we are able to employ more community members,” he says.

Anther safari group that stand to lose should the ban become a reality is Phuduhudu Safaris, a privately owned game farm situated in the south-eastern part of Botswana, 15km from Lobatse.

More than 10 other community-based organisatIons who were represented at the press briefing held at the Cresta Maun Hotel in Maun to discuss the negative impacts of the UK ban told of similar challenges.

CEO of the Botswana Wild Life Association, Isaac Theophilus says even though the UK is not a dominant force in trophy hunting in Botswana, the ban will have a domino effect on the industry as whole due to the influence the UK has on other markets, including the US and other European markets.

“Due to the influence the UK has on the entire European market, this ban will have a domino effect and a huge impact in Southern Africa, and we are saying, we should not be punished for the good management practices that we have put in place,” says Theophilus.

Saturday Star

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