When word started getting around that Botswana is to host an emergency African Elephant Summit on December 2-4, 2013, residents of Chobe and Ngamiland naturally started rekindling hope that finally the elephant problem is being addressed.
Looking at the provisional programme for that summit, clearly such optimism turns out to be misplaced. The emergency elephant summit is exclusively about illegaly killing of elephants and the illegal trade in ivory, and its objective is to adopt a commitment and accompanying urgent measures to that effect.
The elephant burden of over-population that Botswana carries is nowhere covered in the summit agenda. Yet the country has the highest population of African elephants in the world, with Chobe and Ngamiland being home to more than 90% of the Botswana’s 207 545 elephants.
These numbers are not only growing expotentially annually but have also surpassed the elephant habitat’s carrying capacity. As a result, elephants are expanding their range to encroach on settled areas, leading to the otherwise avoidable human/wildlife conflict.
In its report in August this year, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) rightly called for the necessity “to balance the elephants’ role as a contributor to the maintenance of biodiversity on the one hand, and ecosystem degradation on the other.”
It, therefore, comes as a shock that the Botswana government has missed this rare opportunity to include the concern of over-population into the agenda of the forthcoming emergency elephant summit. We strongly feel this issue is equally important as those of illegal killing of elephants and illegal trade in ivory; and should have been included in the agenda.
Strangely though, the Botswana government together with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) were charged with developing the first draft of the urgent measures to be considered at the summit.
Is it perhaps because our government does not regard the over-population issue as a crisis? Conclusively then, Botswana’s stance on the elephant over-population issue remains as clear as mud.
For instance, the selection of the location for the hosting of this important summit could be indicative of government’s apparent confusion on the matter. Why would one choose Gaborone for such an important summit on elephants while Kasane in the Chobe could have been the most appropriate venue?
What a missed opportunity to take summit delegates on a short tour of the nearby Chobe National Park to witness first hand the devastation wrought by elephant over-population! As we have previously pointed out in this newspaper, this is another glaring evidence of government’s appalling lack of communication and lobbying skills.
Government cannot continue to wish this problem away. Chilli peppers and wildlife corridors approaches cannot be the only solutions. By the time government awakens to this reality it will be too late for the country’s conservation, including the elephants themselves.