WASHINGTON—A newly released public opinion poll of registered voters in the United States shows overwhelming disapproval of a proposal to lift the ban on trophy hunting in Botswana and to initiate regular culls of the country’s elephants. On February 21, a Botswanan cabinet subcommittee recommended lifting the hunting ban and starting regular elephant culling to President Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, who is expected to make a decision soon.
The United States is Botswana’s second largest source of tourists. The results of the U.S. poll show that 75 percent of respondents think it is important to protect elephants from trophy hunting. An overwhelming 78 percent of respondents do not support the proposed culling. Furthermore, 73 percent of respondents believe that if trophy hunting and elephants culls are started, Botswana’s image as a leader in wildlife conservation would be harmed. With reports of elephant poaching on the rise in Botswana, 75 percent of those surveyed were worried about elephant poaching.
In a historic move, Botswana banned trophy hunting in 2014. After the ban went into effect, the country became a popular tourist destination for travelers who want to support ecotourism and the country’s iconic wildlife. In fact, this highly productive industry is considered to be under threat since many visitors choose Botswana as their safari destination specifically because of its firm anti-hunting stance. Using data from the CITES international trade database, Humane Society International estimates that Botswana’s trophy hunting ban has saved nearly 2,400 elephants and 140 leopards from the bullet so far. Leading tour operators have stated that the proposal goes against everything the country stands for and implementation thereof would amount to taking regressive steps rather than building on a sound ecotourism record.
In 2018, travel and tourism in Botswana experienced 3.4 percent growth, contributing US$2.52 billion or 13.4 percent to the country’s economy and supporting 84,000 jobs or 8.9 percent of Botswana’s total employment. Leisure travel accounted for 96 percent of travel and tourism spending, and almost 3/4 of spending came from international travelers. With tourism now the second largest contributor to the country’s GDP and a significant employer, reinstating trophy hunting and starting elephant culls could hurt the country’s economy.
Iris Ho, senior specialist for wildlife programs and policy at Humane Society International, said, “Millions of foreign tourists travel to Botswana to shoot majestic wild animals, not with guns, but with their cameras. Wildlife watching and photographic tourism is on the rise around the world, outstripping the revenue from trophy hunting and the number of trophy hunters by a wide margin. The current ban on trophy hunting is a win-win policy for Botswana’s economy, for the local community and for the animals. There cannot be a more drastic shift for a country known as a safe haven for elephants to become an elephant canning factory for pet food. With poaching of elephants across Africa on the rise, legalized hunting and culling is severe blow to Africa’s rapidly declining elephant population.”
In conjunction with the release of the polling results, more than 87,000 people from around the world signed HSI’s petition to the president of Botswana, asking him to keep the trophy hunting ban in place and to reject plans to cull the country’s elephants. HSI also led a sign-on letter from 33 animal welfare and wildlife conservation organizations from around the world with similar appeals.
The poll of 1,091 registered voters was conducted by the Remington Research Group from March 3-5, 2019, with a margin of error of +/-3 percent and a 95 percent level of confidence.