Has banning safari hunting tourism had a negative effect on wildlife conservation?

Mbaiwa, J. E. (2018). Effects of the safari hunting tourism ban on rural livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Northern Botswana. South African Geographical Journal, 100(1), 41-61.

Safari hunting is a popular activity in southern and eastern Africa, mainly with American tourists.  It was banned in Botswana in 2014 as the government felt that it was contributing to the decline in wildlife numbers, and the areas were instead allocated for photographic tourism.  The decision was largely influenced by a survey conducted by the charity 'Elephants Without Borders', and is a subject of much controversy.  Many people believe that the activity is unethical and cruel and contributes to extinction. Others believe that it is conducted in a sustainable fashion and that the financial benefits are worthwhile.  The recent killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe has created more arguments.  Safari hunting was mainly conducted in Northern Botswana in the wildlife-rich areas of Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta, and the Makgadikgadi pans.  The ‘Community-based Natural Resource Management’ programme was in operation in these areas (CBNRM).  This programme, started in the 1990s, works on the premise that when community livelihoods are improved through tourism, communities are obliged to conservation nature around them. CBNRM has allegedly lead to better attitudes towards wildlife conservation, a decline in poaching, increased livelihoods, and an increase in numbers of some wildlife species.

2014 ban has had a detrimental effect on local communities

Other effects include funding for community projects and benefits, housing for the elderly and needy, funeral costs, scholarships, small business funds, and sports funds.  The loss of meat generated by hunting is also significant.  A general negative attitude towards tourism and wildlife has developed in these communities, which this article explains with the ‘Social Exchange Theory’.  If people perceive an overall positive effect from wildlife tourism they consider it favorably and want to conserve natural resources, but the reduction in economic benefits creates negative attitudes.  Poaching has increased since the ban (likely by locals for meat), and some wildlife numbers have decreased.  Many of the previous safari hunting areas were unsuitable for photographic tourism due to lower animal numbers, and so hunting created opportunities in areas unsuitable for other types of tourism.  Safari hunting also generated more income than photographic tourism, and more remained in local communities (75% remained in Botswana compared to 27% with photographic tourism, and 50% of this was retained in the local community). The loss of income has also affected wildlife conservation itself as a lot of the money generated went directly to the ‘Department of Wildlife and National Parks’.   It was thought that safari hunting generated 15% of tourist income from just 1% of tourists and so was a very low impact form of tourism. 

This paper argues that the government ban on safari hunting was made without any real evidence that the sport was unsustainable and reducing wildlife numbers.  It suggests that the ‘Elephants Without Borders’ survey was flawed and that more research and evidence was needed before deciding on the ban.  It argues that the quota system whereby only old male animals were killed (and younger animals were left to reproduce), the season being restricted to 6 months per year, and monitoring by the ‘Wildlife Management Association Botswana’ made it sustainable. The ‘Social Exchange Theory’ supports the view that tourism initiatives should benefit locals and allow them to have an input in decision making, to improve attitudes to wildlife tourism and conservation, and increases the long-term sustainability. It is thought that the ban has reduced the huge benefits to local communities created by the CBNRM programme and safari hunting.  It has caused a lot of economic problems and has contributed to developing negative attitudes towards wildlife and tourism.  It may not help to reduce declining wildlife numbers as poaching may increase as well.

World Animal Protection’s view

This study gives an alternative view on the safari hunting ban in Botswana.  It's important to consider the effect on local communities and this is obviously not a clear-cut situation.