CAPE TOWN — Elephant hunting will resume in Botswana after a five-year prohibition, the government of that southern African nation said, despite intense lobbying by some conservation advocates to continue the ban.
The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism announced the decision on Wednesday, saying that after “extensive consultations with all stakeholders,” the government had lifted the ban based on the “general consensus from those consulted.”
The country’s policy has long been hotly debated, both within Botswana and in the broader international conservation community, about what approach is most sustainable. In recent months, Botswana has come under immense international pressure to preserve the ban, including multiple petitions and threats of tourism boycotts.
The Humane Society International, an animal welfare group based in Washington, warned in March that “reinstating trophy hunting and starting elephant culls could hurt the country’s economy.”
The decision was met with outrage from some in the international community. Celebrities like the talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres and the actress Kristin Davis have waded into the debate and called for a boycott of tourism to Botswana unless the hunting ban was maintained.
Botswana, long seen as a conservation success story, has the largest elephant population in Africa, about one-third of the continent’s total.
Some believe the resumption of hunting is an attempt by President Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi to win over rural voters before elections that are schedule for later this year. The ban was imposed in 2014 by his predecessor, Ian Khama, an avid conservationist, but just months after Mr. Masisi took office in 2018, he created a committee to reassess the decision.
Opponents of the hunting ban, including the government and some conservationists, said that abandoning it represented an effort to maintain sustainable population growth for the animals and create much-needed revenue for preservation efforts.
The Environment Ministry pointed to the rising levels of human-elephant conflict as one of the reasons for the decision to end the hunting ban. Rural farmers struggle to keep elephants from eating their crops and trampling their fields, as the animals often wander into farms and villages, sometimes with deadly consequences.
The government also said that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks was ill-equipped to deal with animal control issues, leading to long response times in dealing with animals that posed a threat.
The ministry said it wanted to ensure the reinstatement of hunting would be done in an “orderly and ethical manner,” in accordance with the country’s conservation laws. It cited a basic tension between economic arguments about what benefits people, and the desire to protect the animals.
Advocates for limited trophy hunting say that it can generate income for communities, which could in turn support conservation efforts.
“By sacrificing 700 elephants per year we’re likely going to save more,” said Erik Verreynne, a wildlife veterinarian and consultant based in Gaborone, Botswana.
The government did not immediately provide details of its new policy, including how many elephants it would allow hunters to kill, and whether hunting would be allowed to resume immediately.
Botswana has some 27,000 elephants living outside wildlife management areas that often come into conflict with farmers, according to Mr. Verreynne.
“Rural communities endure the cost of human-wildlife conflict yet are largely excluded from the income generated by tourist industries,” he said. Lifting the ban on hunting, he added, could “be a tool to provide sustainability.”
In many rural areas, Mr. Verreynne said, there was “antagonism forming against Western influence and interference” that posed a far graver threat to conservation than hunting.
There are about 415,000 African elephants in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund, spread over 37 nations. Their population is considered “vulnerable,” down from between three to five million in the last century, largely because of unregulated hunting.