Botswana is to issue nearly 300 elephant hunting licenses next month for the first full hunting season since a ban was lifted in 2019. Coronavirus travel restrictions disrupted the hunting season last year in Botswana, home to the world's largest elephant herd.
The country's Department of Wildlife and National Parks will issue 100 licenses for elephant hunts, with another 187 licenses from last year's aborted season. The hunting season, which includes a variety of species, will start April 6 and runs until September.
Debbie Peake, spokesperson for the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association, said they hope international hunters will be able travel to the southern African country.
"COVID-19 presents many difficulties in various forms, but we remain positive and we will be looking to our Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the ministry, for support to make 2021 the success we all desperately need," she said.
Hunting, she added, is key to the survival of communities, which were deprived of income from professional hunting activities since 2014.
"Botswana operators aim to reinvigorate the controlled hunting program in 2021, ensuring that communities become shareholders in the hunting wildlife economy and not just stakeholders," she said.
The government held auctions for elephant licenses in February last year, with each animal costing up to $43,000. Expedition operators buy the licenses and sell them at profit to overseas trophy hunters, who are mostly from the United States.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi's government lifted the trophy ban in 2019, in response to growing human-wildlife conflict, such as elephants trampling on crops and, in some cases, killing people.
However, wildlife biologist and conservationist Keith Lindsay said reintroducing trophy hunting will not reduce human-wildlife conflict.
"There is no ecological need to reduce elephant numbers by killing them," he said. "The government is already trying to encourage natural movement corridors including to neighboring countries like Angola, Zambia and Namibia. Shooting the elephants will also do nothing to reduce incidences of crop raiding in farming areas, as mostly killing will take place in different areas from trophy hunting blocks."
Botswana is one of the last places on the planet where elephants are thriving. The country's elephant population is more than 130,000, far more than its estimated capacity of 55,000.