The outcome of Botswana’s general election in October is a major blow for wildlife conservation, and for elephants in particular, says Andrea Matthee, lead campaigner at international animal welfare organisation, the Animal Survival International (formerly Political Animal Lobby).
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won the election with 51% of the vote and its leader Mokgweetsi Masisi has officially been sworn in again as president of Botswana. He has served in this position since 2018.
Masisi is a controversial public figure who came under heavy criticism this year after he lifted a hunting ban on elephants, and allowed them to be killed. Prior to this, he gifted stools made from elephant feet to three African leaders during a meeting about the sale of ivory. The stools were covered in a blue cloth and given to the leaders of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
Masisi’s predecessor, Ian Khama, had implemented the strict elephant conservation policy but Masisi did not think much of it and decided to scrap it.
Matthee said that Botswana’s policy of encouraging hunting will have a serious effect on elephants which are already dying at the rate of 55 a day. “Encouraging people to kill elephants sends the wrong message to poachers – a message that says Botswana is a place that doesn’t care about elephants. Poaching is already on the increase and the government’s new policy is not yet one year old,” Matthee also pointed out that the anti-elephant policies of the government will have a negative impact on tourism and jobs. “Tourism is Botswana’s second largest source of foreign income,” said Matthee, and wildlife tourists are renowned for avoiding places with anti-animal policies,” she said. “Leaders need to start thinking about the long-term impact rather than short-term profits.”
There are now around 415,000 African elephants left, and Botswana is home to about a third of them. Elephants are slaughtered brutally for their tusks – while leaving infants to fend for themselves.
“We appeal to Botswana’s Environmental and Wildlife Ministry to advise Masisi’s Cabinet on the impact of hunting elephants and other wildlife. We hope that, with the right knowledge, Masisi’s administration can make better informed decisions going future,” said Matthee.