Botswana’s decision to reintroduce elephant hunting was necessary to protect its people and environment, and hasn’t adversely affected the $2 billion tourism industry, according to Investment, Trade and Industry Minister Joy Kenewendo.
Botswana has the world’s biggest elephant population, with about 130,000 of the animals. Increasing incidents of elephants destroying crops and trampling villagers to death were cited by President Mokgweetsi Masisi as the reason he lifted a hunting ban on wildlife in May.
The decision, condemned by conservation groups, has become a key political issue as Masisi seeks to win re-election next week. The move to keep the elephant population under control could help shore up his support in rural communities but it also widened a rift with his predecessor, Ian Khama, who has since formed a rival party.
The government’s main motivation was to address a human-wildlife conflict that had reached “epidemic proportions,” Kenewendo said in a phone interview from Gaborone, the capital.
“What is important to us is to protect the environment, it’s to protect our people and ensure that there is a balance in the ecosystem,” she said. “When we talk to people on a personal level and when they come here, they get to really understand what we are talking about. As a result we haven’t really seen a big change in our tourism.”
As many as 50 Batswana, the term for people from the country, were killed by elephants since 2014 and hundreds of reports of property damage have been filed.