Animal rights campaigners have welcomed the uncertainty surrounding Botswana’s first hunting season since 2014, which has been hit hard by hunters pulling out because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everything is at a standstill. All clients that were supposed to come in have either postponed or cancelled,” said Clive Eaton, owner of Tholo Safaris, a hunting company that last month bought licences to hunt 20 elephants.
Botswana, home to the world’s largest elephant population and almost one-third of Africa’s herd, lifted a ban on hunting in May 2019, saying the elephant population had increased to the point where farmers’ livelihoods were being affected.
While the country has no confirmed cases of coronavirus infection so far, it has banned arrivals from 18 high-risk countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.
The Botswana Wildlife Producers Association (BWPA) said bookings across the industry had been cancelled or postponed and that it had asked for an extension of the hunting season, due to start in April.
But animal rights campaigners have urged the government to reinstate the ban lifted last year.
“We welcome the fact that foreign trophy hunters cannot kill elephants in Botswana, and hope that the government takes the time to reflect on and rethink its deadly strategy towards elephants and shake off this colonial pastime altogether,” Siobhan Mitchell, UK Director of Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, told Al Jazeera.
“People in Botswana can find peaceful ways to co-exist and benefit from elephants and ensure rural people benefit. This time of global crisis is a great time to look for new and innovative ways to benefit economically and sustainably.”
More than 16,500 people have died from the coronavirus across the world. The pandemic poses a threat to economies like Botswana, where tourism is big business. The country’s vast tracts of wilderness are a magnet for those who want to see – or hunt – wildlife.
Proceeds from hunting licence auctions, worth around 13 million pula ($1.08m) annually before hunting was banned in 2014 due to declining elephant numbers, go to community trusts used for development.
However, a resumption in hunting, to reduce the impact of elephants on people and crops, proved controversial.
A leading wildlife charity, the Born Free Foundation, urged Botswana to abandon any return to trophy hunting.
“Born Free has always maintained that commercial hunting does not offer an ethical or sustainable wildlife management tool, nor is it an effective or sustainable way of funding conservation activities or local communities,” its policy head Mark Jones said.
An auction of licences to hunt 15 elephants is due to go ahead as planned on Friday.