Sun. Jan 24th, 2021

Botswana proposes hunting and trade as elephant population declines

The results of the recent and most extensive elephant population survey of Botswana estimates the country’s population at 126,000 elephants, a further decline from 131,600 reported in 2014.

botswana proposes hunting and trade as elephant population declines - Botswana proposes hunting and trade as elephant population declines

IMG 0526 e1548153807947 - Botswana proposes hunting and trade as elephant population declines

The report shows repeated evidence of significant increases in elephant poaching in four hotspots in Northern Botswana, which started a media storm last year.

This report by Elephants
without Borders (EWB) comes after the cabinet sub-committee presented their pro
hunting report to President Masisi on Thursday last week, which proposes not
only lifting the hunting ban, but also the introduction of regular elephant
culling and associated elephant meat canning industry for pet food, as well as
closing certain wildlife migratory routes.

Botswana government earlier submitted
a proposal to CITES in preparation for the CoP18 meeting in May this year, asking
to amend the CITES listing of the African savannah elephant to allow for trade
in hunting trophies, live animals and registered (government-owned) stocks of
raw ivory.

According to the African Elephant Status report (2016), Botswana’s elephant population declined by 15% in the preceding 10 years. This report clearly shows that Botswana’s elephant population is not increasing, as is often suggested in political and hunting corridors. Although its population is still the largest in Southern Africa, it actually 100, 000 less than the 237,000 often quoted by politicians and the media in Botswana. In attempts to justify culling and hunting.

The EWB elephant population of
126,000 is based on a region-wide aerial survey, covering a larger area than
any previous study by EWB. The joint EWB and DWNP team flew over a period of 62
days, recording more than 32,000 km of transects and covering over 100,000km2 of Botswana, including Chobe, Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pan
National Parks and surrounding Wildlife Management Areas, Okavango Delta and
Moremi Game Reserve, and the pastoral areas in Ngamiland, Chobe and the Central

Four elephant poaching hotspots revealed in Northern

Since the last survey in
2014, the EWB research team discovered a steep increase in the number of fresh
and recent elephant carcasses, i.e. elephants that died within the last year of
both natural causes and poaching.

The EWB team confirmed that
of the 128 elephant carcasses less than one year old, 72 were confirmed either on
the ground or by aerial assessment as killed by poachers and an additional 22 from
survey photographs as poaching victims. In addition, 79 older than one-year
carcasses were assessed in one particular hotspot, of which 63 were confirmed
as poached. The all-age carcass ratio increased
from 6.8% to 8.1% between 2014 and 2018, generally accepted as indicating an elephant
population that could be declining.

The elephant remains all show
the graphic evidence of poaching with a similar modus operandi. Poachers shoot
the animals with high calibre rifles when they come to drink at remote seasonal
pans. If the elephant doesn’t die immediately, one of the poachers immobilises it
by damaging the spinal cord with an axe. Their tusks are hacked away, severely
damaging the skull, the trunk is often removed from the face, and the carcass
is covered in cut branches in an attempt to hide the dead animal.

The poachers seem to operate
in a certain area, targeting the bulls with large tusks, before moving on to
the next site. They are in no apparent rush, as a poacher’s camp was also
discovered close to one of the carcass clusters.

The ground verification team established
that the vast majority of poached elephants are indeed bulls between the age 35-45
years old. This also corresponds with evidence in the report that the bull
population has decreased from 21,600 individuals in 2014 to 19,400 in 2018.

The poaching appears predominately
in four hotspots in Northern Botswana – the area between the Pan Handle and
Caprivi Strip, in and around the Savuti section of Chobe including Khwai and
Linyanti, near Maun, and in the area between Chobe and Nxai Pan.

A panel of nine independent elephant scientists reviewed the EWB report and found the science to be rock solid.

One member stated, “this is a very thorough and carefully documented report demonstrating exceptionally high rigor.”

Nevertheless, the Botswana
government still attempts to cast doubt on various issues detailed in the report,
as part of a confusing political campaign. EWB strongly refutes the government claims and says they find it regrettable that the government
have not contacted them directly to discuss the report.

In addition to the many
elephant fatalities, 13 rhinos were killed by poachers in just 11 months in
Botswana, three of which were in the Okavango Delta. The surge in wildlife
poaching is alarming, but sadly not unique to Botswana.

Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton, member of the reviewing panel, says “in my view [the EWB] count showing that elephant poaching has increased to a greater level than previously thought, raises the possibility that further escalations are possible.”

Another member adds, “it is safe to say that, if the observed poaching trend continues, there could be a significant decrease in elephant populations. Politicians never like to see negative publicity however this should act as a warning call, and preventative action should be taken”.

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