Botswana overturned its ban on elephant hunting to mitigate human-animal conflict and generate more livelihood opportunities for poor communities residing around the forests.
Home to more than 130,000 elephants, the country had been desperately trying to lift the prohibition on hunting for the last few months.
"Predators appeared to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers," said Onkokame Kitso Mokaila, Botswana's minister for environment, natural resources conservation and tourism, on Thursday.
Allaying fears of large-scale killings, the minister assured that country is not allowing culling of elephants. "There would be controlled hunting of not more than 300 to 400 elephants annually," he said.
U-turn on elephant protection
Once an ardent supporter of wildlife conservation, Botswana banned hunting in 2014 to revive the declining population of wild animals.
Ian Khama, country's former president, not only stopped hunting but also tried to build a consensus among African countries to end ivory trade.
The country is also a lead member of the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), formed to control ivory trafficking.
After Mokgweetsi Masisi became the president of the country last year, the government initiated consultations to revive hunting and ivory trade. It also hosted an elephant summit, early this month, for better management of elephants.
In a proposal submitted earlier this year to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – a wildlife trade regulator – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe urged the removal of clauses restricting them from selling their ivory stockpile.
The pro-ivory bloc's move stunned conservationists raising doubts over the country's efforts to save wildlife.
"The current situation is not just confusing for our members but equally challenging for those countries that have shut down markets and made significant financial commitments to combat illegal ivory trade," Winnie Kiiru, senior technical adviser to EPI told CGTN Digital.
Large ivory markets have been shut down after the Chinese mainland, China's Taiwan region and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) along the U.S. and the UK banned domestic trade of ivory. The move is aimed at protecting African elephants.
More than 30,000 elephants are brutally poached for ivory in African countries every year. The poaching rate has more or less remained static in the last two years, claimed an estimate released by CITES last month.
Alternatives to hunting
With Botswana's decision to resume hunting, the issue of tusks procured from the killed elephants has further increased the worries of wildlife conservationists.
Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid, believes that the concept of utilizing money generated from hunting for conservation work has its own challenges.
Usually these funds are either usurped by wildlife operators or fail to reach the communities because of corruption.
"We do not promote hunting but we are not entirely opposed to it either. We recognize that it can generate money for conservation, if it's done properly and ethically," Knights told CGTN Digital.
In Botswana, the human-elephant conflict is relatively addressable. Since the country has a small population and not much of agriculture, preventive measures can curb crop destruction by elephants or attacks by predators.
"Use of electric fences and similar measures can tackle such human-elephant conflict," he added.
(Cover: An elephant chases away a pack of wild dogs in South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve. /VCG Photo)