Botswana wildlife management fails communities —…

A forensic study in Botswana’s Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) conservation system found that it was failing the people and wildlife it was meant to support.

The latest report, by researcher Dr Adam Cruise, confirms and builds on a 2016 review that found most CBNRMs were not working at all or were on the verge of collapse due to mismanagement, corruption and other factors. Cruise’s current research confirms this.

The 2016 review found poverty levels in CBNRM to be the highest in the country – 27% compared to 19.3% nationally. The revenue generated was only $0.17 per person for the year 2015. This remains the case in 2022.

Hunting has returned to Botswana. (Photo: Adam Cruise)

Cruise visited 25 villages associated with CBNRM in Botswana, reaching out to a wide range of people: farmers, villagers, herders, tourism stakeholders, lodge managers and staff, shop and handicraft vendors, management authorities, organizations community, former and current government officials, academics, biologists, scientists and associated stakeholders.

Because of its central role in wildlife management – ​​and because the government used the issue to reintroduce hunting in May 2019 – it has focused on elephants and trophy hunting.

At the time, President Mokgweetsi Masisi argued that revenue from trophy hunting would lead to improved attitudes towards wildlife among local communities not involved in photo tourism and increase their involvement in CBNRM programs. This, he said, would also reduce conflict between humans and elephants.

Field investigation

After a month-long field investigation, Cruise discovered just the opposite. Trophy hunting had not provided tangible financial benefits to local communities, had not contributed to increasing wildlife populations, and had not mitigated the impacts of conflicts with elephants.

Community members from 25 villages close to where the hunt takes place said they receive little or no direct income from trophy hunting, apart from the occasional distribution of meat from a hunted elephant , the promised purchase of a vehicle, the salary of a handful of trusted community employees, fencing for a borehole, the possible future construction of a candy store and the upgrade of an airstrip for easy access by hunters.

“In fact,” he writes, “this survey shows that trophy hunting continues to impoverish local communities, causes species decline and exacerbates human-elephant conflict situations.”

It did not provide any meaningful income to any of the rural communities visited, he said, and did not provide opportunities to improve citizen empowerment and investment in the sector. The report adds that hunting in CBNRM contributes to the potential collapse of elephant populations.

“In short, trophy hunting in Botswana achieves the opposite of what its proponents claim.”

Director of the Okavango Research Institute, Professor Joseph Mbaiwa, argues that photographic tourism and trophy hunting have a role to play in Botswana’s socio-economic and political development. But her concern is that local people are being ripped off by big operators because communities are unaware of the market value of what they own.

“Trusts are subletting Controlled Hunting Areas (CHAs) to safari companies without knowing the value of the concession area and the natural resources therein,” he writes. Trusts also sell hunting quota without knowing the quota value of each animal. “It comes down to someone selling their house or vehicle without knowing the market value of that house or vehicle.

Communities lose millions

“It’s a tragedy because communities are losing millions of dollars in the process of subletting the CHA or selling wildlife quota. It is also a tragedy because community tourism should bring the maximum benefit to the communities.

“Instead, the reverse is happening as communities get only a tenth of what would otherwise be theirs if they knew the value of their tourism product and sold it based on its value.”

He says that in its 30 years of existence in the Okavango Delta, community-based ecotourism has had mixed results, succeeding in some areas and failing in others.

“Where ecotourism has been successful, it has generated economic benefits such as income and employment opportunities, which has led to positive resident attitudes towards ecotourism and conservation. Where this has failed, the lack of entrepreneurial spirit and management and marketing skills of local communities is cited as one of the main factors contributing to the failure of projects.

According to the Cruise report, despite government assurances that trophy hunting brings income to remote rural communities, increases wildlife populations and alleviates human-wildlife conflict, the opposite is the case. true.

“Funds from elephant trophy hunting,” the report says, “tend to remain in the hands of wealthy hunting operators, the CBO board, business tycoons and those with political ties”.

The CBNRM system has a history. It was first used in Zimbabwe where it was called the Communal Area Management Program for Indigenous Resources (Campfire). The idea was hailed internationally, books were written about it, conferences were held, large sums of money were invested.

Its basic principle attributes to local people a better understanding – as well as a direct interest – in their local environment. They are therefore considered more capable of effectively managing natural resources through local or traditional practices.

Corruption and poor management

However, due to corruption and sloppy management, it largely failed. Despite this, it was instituted in Namibia and Botswana.

Last year Cruise, along with researcher Izzy Sasada, spent two months visiting 29 conservancies across Namibia. They found that – particularly in the northern regions – larger species such as elephants, lions, zebras and oryx were in decline. Throughout the country, many rural communities were in worse condition than before independence.

The report claimed – with considerable evidence – that Namibia’s CBNRM system was collapsing. This year he turned his attention to Botswana and found a similar situation. Although CBNRM was a great idea in principle, on the ground it failed both for people and for the environment.

“CBNRM residents in Botswana,” he writes, “remain the poorest citizens of Botswana. And minority groups such as the San continue to be marginalized.

Impact of trophy hunting

Michele Pickover of the EMS Foundation agrees with Cruise’s assessment of CBNRM and is particularly concerned about the impact of trophy hunting.

botswana elephant bull
A huge elephant bull killed during a NG13 Concession trophy hunt. (Photo: provided)

“Existing conservation practices and paradigms of CBNRM and trophy hunting are outdated, impractical and unethical,” she writes. “They undermine public trust in conservation, contribute to social inequality, ignore animal welfare and sentience, and heap misery and suffering on animal societies.

“There are viable alternative ethical practices, but there must be the political will to implement them. Instead, these governments are simply deploying colonial models because they have been asked by Safari Club International to support trophy hunting.

Director of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Dr Kabelo Senyatso, called Cruise’s report “a crusade against trophy hunting and against empowering local communities to benefit from the resources found. in their locality”.

He said the hunt had only lasted two seasons since the hunting moratorium was lifted, so it was not possible to conclude on its lack of impact on rural livelihoods from the hunt. He said the lifting of the hunt had injected income into community organisations, allowing them to develop projects to create employment opportunities. No example of this was given. DM/OBP


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