Why YŪGEN puts Botswana on hold

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 16:36 - 

Recently the new government of Botswana has taken the decision to lift the trophy hunting ban in Botswana. This ban was introduced by previous president Ian Khama in 2013. Current president, Mokgweetsi Masisi hosted a summit for five South African countries in order to establish a common regional strategy. Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe never introduced a ban on trophy hunting. About 130 000 elephants of the remaining total population of 400 000 on the whole African continent live in Botswana (in comparison: Kenya only has about 25 000 elephants left). Now suddenly Botswana’s global leadership in conservation and protection of these gentle giants comes to an end, even though their number is still listed as vulnerable and declining rapidly in general. In this statement I will try to clarify the situation and YŪGEN’s point of view on it.

Why the ban was introduced in the first place

Ex-president Khama was a big defender of wildlife and an advocate of pure photography tourism. He wanted to protect these majestic creatures against trophy hunters and poachers. He introduced the ban and even a shoot to kill policy, meaning anti-poacher teams received weapons and were legally allowed to shoot at poachers. This has been a very much discussed policy but it did turn out to be effective, discouraging poachers to come to Botswana and risk their lives. It is said that the current president also is disarming the anti-poacher troops.

Why the ban has been lifted

Soon after taking over from mister Khama, new president Masisi ordered a committee to make a study about lifting the ban. He also gave chopped elephant legs as a present to colleagues of neighboring countries to serve as a stool. In February 2019 the committee advised to lift the ban and allow regulated killing of the animals. They also proposed to erect a factory and use the elephant meat in pet food, but this has not been implemented in the end. President Masisi announced on May 22nd 2019 that regulated hunting “in an ethical way” is allowed. He did not give any further explanation about this.

The elephants mainly wander in the northern part of Botswana but due to increasing drought they tend to move more towards the South, going into communities and destroying crops.  With only 2 million inhabitants Botswana has a lot of untouched wilderness left. (in comparison: Kenya has a population of 50 million but then again Kenya has less desert-like areas which in Botswana make it more difficult to live together with the elephants as there are limited water supplies).

The decision is applauded by farmers who sometimes loose up to a whole year income due to loss of crops when a herd of elephants passes through. Encounters between men and elephants sometimes end with death.  Therefor it is understandable that locals tend to dislike these herbivores more and more, especially when a family member is killed by them. Some, such as for example former president Khama, think that lifting the ban just a few months before new elections will take place in October, is a politically strategic move of the current government to ensure the farmers will vote on their behalf. Lifting the ban comes at a great cost as it undoes the huge reputation as global leader in conservation which Botswana has been praised for numerous of times during recent years. The country also won several prices over the past years for its approach and protection of nature and wildlife.

YŪGEN’s point of view

It goes without saying that YŪGEN understands the problems the local population faces by the elephants which wander into their territory and it is very true that the protection of people should not be taken lightly. However, we do believe that there are other options than allowing the killings of these vulnerable animals in a country which has become their only safe refuge left in the region, since the neighboring countries never banned trophy hunting. YŪGEN believes that if we want to protect them, we will have to find ways of living together with wild animals, not only in Africa.

Many studies and research have shown that the brains and behaviors of elephants show huge similarities with the one of humans, great apes, dolphins and whales, that they can morn, feel, play, show compassion and empathy, have self-consciousness, be afraid, sad, and even can suffer psychological flashbacks and posttraumatic stress. Like humans, they do not rely so much on their instinct but on a learning process of about 10 years while growing up when their brain develops. Elephants have a huge memory and a way of communicating with each other. They are extremely smart and can even use tools which they find in nature. They spread seeds over many kilometers which plays an important role in regenerating vegetation elsewhere and the preservation of biodiversity.

The oldest female elephant, called the matriarch, leads a whole group of elephants safely through several territories. She relies on the knowledge she has inherited from her elders and on her memories.  Often a border between two countries exists of a river or another recognizable natural element. She remembers the slaughter that took place when they roamed across the river into the neighboring country. Because of this, more and more elephants are staying in what until recently was their only safe territory, Botswana. The fact that surrounding countries never introduced a hunting ban, has contributed to the fact that Botswana now has the largest elephant population.

Suddenly allowing the killings to take place instead of being a safe harbor will leave the elephants without any refuge territory. Only killing the elder animals is no option as they play a vital role in transferring knowledge, disciplining juveniles and in the herd sociology. Not only geographical wisdom will be lost but also knowledge about social behavior around other elephants and animals. Not seldom the oldest ones get shot because they carry the biggest tusks with them.

It is obvious to us that hunting these smart, sensitive giants with human characteristics is not the same as hunting for instance rabbits. And this knowledge makes YŪGEN in favor of finding alternative ways of handling the increasing conflicts between men and elephants. We understand that it must be very hard for just one country to be responsible for the conservation of the largest amount of elephants and we do believe that everyone of us can help by finding and introducing alternatives. For example:

  • What if the surrounding countries would also introduce a ban on trophies hunting? And what if natural corridors were put in place so the elephants can migrate from one territory to another without roaming across villages? What if neighboring countries would be willing to co-operate?
  • What about using the fact that these giants are very scared of the small African honey bee in a win-win way, allowing the farmers to sell honey to lodges and keeping the elephants on a distance? More information about this can be found on http://elephantsandbees.com/.  Also chili can help.
  • What about involving the local population more in tourism, so that the elephants indirectly provide an income for them and not mainly for the owners of big wilderness area’s or rich foreigners? What if this income could replace the income out of current crops? What about travel agents working more directly with local entrepreneurs and communities, providing them a decent income?
  • What about real eco-lodges taking care of water supplies in remote, dry areas?
  • What about tour operators, travel agents and travelers making more responsible choices instead of only looking at how to make the biggest profit or pay the lowest price when deciding on holiday destinations?

These are a few thoughts on the top of our head and from our perspective as a travel agent, just to illustrate our point of view that there could still be many alternatives, in different fields and levels.  On top of that, we are afraid that shooting elephants may make them scared and traumatized, causing more aggressive attacks on humans in the end.

YŪGEN puts Botswana “on hold”

All elements well considered YŪGEN has decided to put all travels to Botswana on hold for now. There is too much unclarity about how this regulated hunting will take place and how many permits exactly will be issued. We are convinced that these complex herbivores cannot be hunted in any ethical way and find the statement of President Masisi kind of a paradox.  Also, it is currently unclear if trophy hunters will be able to export their trophies or not? What about ivory trade? Is this a political decision as some claim it to be? Will we soon see a field of slaughtered elephants? To which extend will profits of trophy hunting go to the local farmers? To the protection of habitats and water reserves? What will be done with the tusks of dead animals? What will happen after the elections of October 2019? Could there be a new ban soon?

Because of all these unanswered questions, we have decided to put Botswana on hold as a YŪGEN destination. As soon as more insight will be given to the exact consequences, we will review all the information we have in order to take a definite stand.

Of course, YŪGEN would be very happy to be able to keep up the very nice co-operation with its local partners, if the ban would go back into effect. Our local partner employs local people and supports many communities and very nice projects in Botswana. Unfortunately photography tourism does not provide the same income for Botswana than a trophy hunter who is willing to pay easily around 40 000 euro to shoot an animal instead of shoot a picture. Also ivory is a lucrative business so we like to know which stand Botswana will take in that trade now it has lifted the ban. Not only the government of this beautiful country plays a big role but also the ones of neighboring countries, the ones asking for ivory, Asia contributing certain believes to animal parts, the providers of trophy hunting, the hunters, the travel agents and the traveler choosing wisely, or not, which destinations and regimes they support financially.

YŪGEN chose to offer Botswana because of its pioneering role in conservation, because of the ban and because of its policy towards poachers. YŪGEN wanted to support the only country in the region which was willing to only offer photography tourism. It looks like Botswana has given up this role and its search for alternative solutions, other than shooting the elephants. As a consequence YŪGEN has no choice but to accept this and also give up for now on the thought that we could help support a win-win situation in an exceptional country that had a pioneering approach to conservation. We need to conclude that Botswana will now be having a similar regime as the neighboring countries, which we are not eager to support.

YŪGEN is not a mainstream travel agent but has the intention to be a compass for travelers to those few destinations which are truly exceptional pioneers in the protection of fauna and flora. Putting our values before our profit and having too much unclarity about the future, we can for now no longer promote Botswana as a safari destination.

If you have any questions about this statement, feel free to contact hello@yugentours.com.



Do you have any questions or suggestions? Leave a message in the box below.