After a ban that lasted nearly five years, trophy hunting for elephants has resumed in Botswana, a nation that made headlines in 2015 for its decision to ban all game hunting after the infamous incident involving the killing of Cecil, a protected lion, by an American dentist who paid for the right to hunt inside a private game farm in Zimbabwe. As can be expected, the lifting of the ban has received strong criticism among wildlife conservation circles, and there are concerns that other species could be added to the list of permissible game hunting in Botswana.
When Botswana announced its decision to ban all trophy hunting, the move was widely praised because of its ethical connotations. However, legal analysts noticed that the measure was hastily enacted without the protections of enduring legislation, thereby leaving it open to political disagreements, which is precisely what ended up happening.
Firm restrictions on elephant hunting had been enacted in Botswana months before the Cecil incident, and they were extended to all species after global anger was expressed at the killing of the big cat. As the situation stands, Botswana can boast of having the world’s highest count of elephants, which is estimated to be around 135,000, within its borders. Wildlife control officials have explained that the hunting ban brought about a much higher number of pachyderms—an increase that has become difficult to manage and dangerous.
According to a news report published by British newspaper The Guardian, government officials in Botswana cited complaints from farmers whose fields have been lost to elephant herds that either consume or trample their crops. Cases of villagers killed by elephants are on the rise, but such cases are not as critical as in the neighboring country of Zimbabwe, where 200 people have been reported to have died of injuries resulting from elephant attacks.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, an agency that works with the United Nations, lists African elephants as a critically endangered species. Aside from trophy hunting, elephants face danger from poaching and the illegal ivory trade. In May 2019, a British soldier was killed by an elephant while on patrol in Malawi; ironically, the soldier was part of a special unit assigned to fight poaching of elephants by criminals engaged in smuggling ivory to destinations such as China.