What To Do About Elephants?
In previous entries, I have discussed the unintended consequences of the 2014 hunting ban on government and community lands in Botswana. I told you of the vast number of rural Africans who were left without jobs when tourist hunting was stopped.. Worse yet, the loss of revenue from hunters started a macabre chain reaction as diesel-less engines stopped pumping water from the bore holes that once allowed thousands of antelope, pachyderms, birds, and more to thrive in the desert. But when the water pumps stopped, the animals died. Unfortunately, there is more bad news.
Elephants. Botswana has within its borders nearly one third of the remaining savannah elephants on the African Continent; over 130,000…which is good, until you realize what an elephant does to habitat and the carrying capacity of the land in a prolonged drought is only 50,000.
Elephants are powerful and voracious feeders. In a balanced ecosystem, elephants primary natural purpose is to clear trees in the dense mopane forests by bulldozing them to the ground to get at the tender top leaves. Again, in a balanced ecosystem…fine. But Botswana is seriously overpopulated with elephants and the mopane forests aren’t just opening up, they are disappearing. Sounds like a job for hunters. And it was until hunting was banned.
Understand, Botswana was the Mecca of elephant hunting with prices for these prized hunts starting at $35,000 and up. And it’s not like hunters were putting a big dent in the numbers either, with less than 500 elephant licenses issued each year. But the $15M or so dollars generated by hunters went a long way towards keeping populations in check, employing rural Africans, building roads and infrastructure, and of course, improving habitat by drilling bore holes (water wells) which spread the permanent water around the country, keeping local herds from migrating, concentrating, and destroying habitat around permanent water points in the dry season. Hunters dollars did all that. But now the hunters are gone and so is the revenue. Now rural Africans and wildlife suffer.
Ecotourism, though helpful in more developed areas, does not benefit the people or animals of the deep African bush, but hunters do, or at least, they did. That truth is now plain to see in a country called Botswana.