(TMU) - Friday, February 7 was a disastrous day for the elephants of Botswana. The country's government held an auction during which it successfully sold the rights to shoot 60 elephants. The sale netted the government 25.7 million Botswana Pula ($2.3 million USD).
Botswana has been the only African country in which the elephant population has grown, from a low of 80,000 in the 1990s to an estimated 130,000 today. Neighboring countries have seen an alarming decline in local elephant populations mainly due to poaching.
In May of last year, Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi revoked a five-year moratorium on the hunting of elephants, citing increased conflict between humans and elephants as the reason. Masisi is said to have issued a total quota of 272 elephants for hunting in 2020. The decision raised concern from conservationists who warned that this could be the start of a "major global conservation disaster."
Masisi's lifting of the hunting ban was welcomed and praised by local communities. According to Botswana officials, hunting is necessary as elephants roaming outside their feeding zones destroy the crops and infrastructure of farmers and communities.
Bids for the hunting licenses where only allowed by companies registered in Botswana who had to put down a refundable deposit of 200,000 Pula ($18,000 USD).
"The Botswana government has demonstrated to the world that it does not care that elephants play a critical role in maintaining healthy ecological systems, nor does it seem to understand that killing off prime elephant bulls undermines the very basis of its successful ecotourism economy.
The Botswana communities are extremely dissatisfied at the process in which these elephant hunts are being marketed. There was meant to be a tendering process rather than an auction but clearly there is no governance capacity.
The qualifying criteria explicitly excludes tourism operators or Foundations, such as ourselves that do not necessarily want to hunt elephants but do desire to fund non-consumptive conservation in Botswana."
Africa's elephant population has plummeted by more than two-thirds since 1979-from 1.3 million to a mere 414,000 in 2015-according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Poaching continues to be the leading cause of the declining population and environmentalists fear that licensed hunting could encourage more.
Speaking to the Independent, Eduardo Goncalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said:
"Trophy hunting is artificial selection. By targeting the biggest and strongest animals, it leaves the weaker, smaller animals behind. This means the best genes are being lost, so the species will be less able to adapt to accelerating climate change, it will be more prone to disease, and the risk of extinction is greater."
An estimated 100 African elephants are killed daily by poachers for the lucrative illegal trade in ivory, meat, and body parts.
A quote from Samuel Wasser of the University of Washington on the World Elephant Day's website explains the important role of the elephants in their natural environment:
"Without elephants there will be major habitat changes, with negative effects on the many species that depend on the lost habitat."