/ 14 April 2024

Botswana president lauded for threatening to ‘gift’ Germany with 20 000 elephants over trophy hunting dispute

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi at the Ngamiland Farmers' Field Day. Photo: X/@OfficialMasisi

Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi “deserves a medal” for threatening to send 20,000 elephants to Germany amid a row over the import of hunting trophies, an industry official has said.

The Guardian recently reported that Germany’s environment ministry had raised the possibility earlier this year of stricter limits on the import of hunting trophies because of poaching concerns.

A ban on the import of hunting trophies would only impoverish his country’s people, Masisi told the German tabloid Bild. He argued that conservation efforts had led to an explosion of elephants and hunting was a key measure to keep their numbers in check. Herds of elephants were causing damage to property, eating crops and trampling residents.

The chief executive of Wildlife Ranching South Africa, Richard York, applauded the Botswana leader.

“I think President Masisi should be given a medal for his stance because his stance is rightfully so. What must they do with too many elephants?” York said.

Masisi said the elephants would be offered as a “gift” to Germany. “It is very easy to sit in Berlin and have an opinion about our affairs in Botswana,” he told Bild. “We are paying the price for preserving these animals for the world. Germans should live together with the animals, in the way you are trying to tell us to.”

York said: “You go to conventions such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and then you get your European blocs voting together all as one vote, so a country — not to pick on them — such as Luxembourg, has got the same amount of say as South Africa.”

He said decisions are being made based on emotions and not on the broader picture of what should be done. 

This is that “there are too many elephants” in Southern Africa, and they should be “used sustainably”, according to York.

“How can we have starving people in South Africa and Africa, but yet we’ve got too many elephants? … You should be using the entire animal, not just the value that you generate from the hunting; it should be going to the communities as meat,” he said.

The imposition of trophy hunting bans was hurting the region, York said. “We are opposed to the bans because if a client can’t get his trophy back to the [United] States, his chances of spending a lot of money to come and hunt that animal is a lot less. And, that’s detrimental in the long run.”

While there are about 130 000 elephants in Botswana alone, the total number of elephants is “far bigger at about 230 000”, considering the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, shared by Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, he said.

But the director of Ban Animal Trading South Africa, Smaragda Louw, said Masisi’s statements are political and the country could not afford to send so many elephants to Germany. “What they can afford, and how they make money, is to send the trophies of thousands of elephants all over the world. 

“It’s not like Germany is telling Botswana ‘don’t kill the elephants’. They are saying that ‘we, as an independent country, won’t be accepting your trophies’,” she said.

Trophy hunting bans are having the desired effects, she said. “There are many countries that won’t accept the trophies of captive-bred hunted lions, for example. And that is definitely having an effect but it’s really morally the correct thing to do. 

“Emotions make us human beings and this is what we need to be compassionate people.” 

Louw said enough research has been done to show that elephants also feel emotion. “They mourn their dead; they have very strong family ties and bonds” but “now we [are being told to] take emotion out of everything. Yes, there are practical things and we are looking at those things too, but it doesn’t mean emotions must be taken out of this completely.”

She said there is poverty and humans have taken over the territories of wild animals and cut off their corridors which meant they could not move to other areas, causing human-wildlife conflicts. 

The answers lie in natural solutions to solve elephant problems, which include, “opening up corridors, doing what is necessary for nature to set the balance right instead of killing them, trying to make money off them and hanging them on our walls”, Louw noted.

For York, logic “must prevail”, drawing a comparison between rural residents and “housewives in Sandton” who say “hands off our elephants”.

He said people living in rural areas pay the highest costs. “We have three core messages to grow the wildlife economy. The first is that it needs to outperform other land-use options.” 

If wildlife becomes valueless, people would not look after it, he said.

“Yes, hunting that one elephant, that elephant dies, but you look after the species and create finances that can ensure more resource mobilisation towards habitat.”