Lessons from Botswana?

An academic paper about the effects of the ban on safari hunting in Botswana could have some lessons for us at Verloren Valei.

By James van den Heever

A recent paper by Joseph Mbaiwa in the South African Geographical Journal explores the “Effects of the safari hunting tourism ban on rural livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Northern Botswana”. The government of Botswana banned safari hunting in 2014, citing a decline in wildlife numbers. This paper explores the impact of this ban.

This is a hugely controversial topic, of course, but I think it is worth considering some of the issues as they relate to Verloren Valei.

A retriever in action (Photograph: Casper Star-Tribune)

Safari hunting in Botswana was originally introduced in the 1990s. It was based in the Okavango, Chobe and Makgadikgadi areas in the north of the country under a Community-based Natural Resource Management programme. By all accounts it was successful and definite benefits were realised by the local communities in the form of jobs and access to meat. Safari hunting became a mainstay of the local economy, where poverty is rife.

Between 2006–2009 safari hunting generated P33, 041, 127 for Botswana, while photographic tourism generated only P4, 399, 900—much of this money directly benefitting the local economy (45.9%) and the national economy (25.7%).

The research shows that the ban has dramatically affected rural livelihoods. There is also some suggestion that the public consultation before the ban was largely ignored, as local public opinion was definitely that the ban should not be imposed.

For Verloren Valei, I think there are two issues we should consider and discuss:

Local communities need to buy into the need for the reserve. The most important finding from this research for us, I felt, was that the hunting ban has put the whole notion of conservation in jeopardy. Since the ban, poaching has increased and, more important for the long term, the local communities have developed strongly negative feelings to the concept of conservation. No reserve exists in isolation, and there is growing evidence that only when local communities see benefit from the conservation areas close to them do they support them. As Verloren Valei is not suitable for large-scale tourism of any kind, there are limited material benefits it can bring to people in the area, but we do need to talk about ways in which the reserve can deliver some sort of benefit to local communities. Providing educational opportunities for local schools is one possibility. Reserves will also be vulnerable to the pressure of growing populations and the hunger for mineral wealth: one of our surest defences is to have a sympathetic local populace. This is an issue we need to factor into our strategic plans.

Hunting can generate large revenues. The fact of the matter is that budgets are tight and a closed reserve like Verloren Valei has very little potential to earn money from conventional tourism—money that is desperately needed to preserve and protect this biodiversity hotspot. The potential for raising funds via our game should be investigated. The gamebird surveys that the SA Field Trial Club undertakes each year are providing useful data about the actual state of the gamebird population and hopefully strictly controlled hunting of these birds could again take place from time to time. This has been done before, and has raised much-needed money for the Reserve. In similar vein, we could dispose of excess game to other reserves.

Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA) is currently collecting data that might support the renewal of hunting in 2020. The SA Field Trial Club (SAFTC) francolin surveys are one of the sources of this data—read about the autumn 2019 survey.

Read the full paper online, or e-mail me for a PDF.