HUMAN WIlDLIFE CONFLICT ENDS AGRICULTURE WHERE HUNTING BRINGS HOPE

By Emmanuel Koro
Johannesburg, 1 December 2020

Co-existing with wildlife can be both a curse and a blessing.

The human-wildlife conflict has brought the century-old culture of agricultural
production to a sad and difficult end in Botswana’s Chobe Enclave Community.

But the soon return of hunting in April 2021 is expected to wipe away the hopelessness
and replace it with socioeconomic benefits that could be the envy of other African
rural communities.


Nestled on the border of the elephant over-populated Chobe National Park, the Chobe
Enclave Community is now experiencing a food insecure and vulnerable lifestyle. No
agricultural production. The 2014-2019 former President of Botswana, Ian Khama
hunting ban took away the hunting benefits that had created employment for many
years.


Big elephant herds frequently move into the Community as they wish, destroying
crops and houses. They sometimes kill people. They drink most of the water from
boreholes and wells, leaving very little or nothing for the local residents and their
livestock. The big cats such as lions also kill people and livestock. No wonder why the
Chobe Enclave Community has also become gripped with the fear of occasional
elephant, buffalo and lion attacks and killings of livestock and their loved ones.
An incident involving a lone buffalo bull recently highlighted the human-wildlife
conflict in the area. It chased away tourists who were watching wildlife and livestock
drink from the same rapidly drying dam on the Chobe River bed. This is an example of
one of the cases of human-wildlife conflict being experienced there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While cruising on a comfortable tarmac from Kasane Town, popular with tourists,
about 70 kilometres from the Chobe Enclave Community, one can be deceived to think
that they are driving into one of the most privileged African communities at peace
with nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A local resident who used to lead very successful hunting revenue powered Chobe
Enclave Conservation Trust (CECT); Ms Claudia Nchungu has become one of the most
reliable historians of the Community. She lived in good times when hunting revenue
benefits transformed the late Deputy Chief Luckson Masule together with other
Community members, from being poachers to absolute protectors of wildlife.
“Without benefits from hunting, life has changed for the worse here in the Chobe
Enclave Community compared to the late 1990s when we had reached the peak of
hunting benefits, with some people working as game rangers, trackers and employed
at hunting revenue built lodges,” said Ms Claudia Chungu who used to run the CECT
office as the Administrator and Secretary in the late 1990s. “Human elephant conflict
has made things worse because about five years ago we abandoned agriculture
production totally as it made no sense to continue growing crops that would be
completely destroyed by elephants.”
 

Sadly, this has brought a total change of the way of life in the Community. The end of
crop production that was one of the sources of their livelihoods, has made life more
difficult.


“People are jobless and lack means of survival through agricultural production,” said
Ms Nchungu. “They are now working for government food for work programme in
order to survive. I am lucky, along with a few other parents whose children are
gainfully employed in Gaborone [Botswana’s capital city]. My children provide me
with regular income to meet my needs.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seated at Ms Nchungu’s verandah that overlooks where the crop fields were five years
ago, the evidence of lack of agricultural production is everywhere. Open grasslands
that stretch as far as the eye can see, is all one can see in places where they used to
grow crops. Huge elephant herds that bulldoze their way in and out of the Community
have converted the crop fields into elephant corridors and playing fields. In stark
contrast, most local residents can be seen ‘trapped’ in their homesteads, literally cut
out from their former crop fields.


Therefore, livestock rearing is the only remaining century-old source of livelihood in
the Community.


The Khama hunting ban removed both wildlife hunting benefits and also the
incentives for wildlife tolerance and conservation. Therefore, wildlife-rich Chobe
District Communities have become the sites of intense human-wildlife conflict.
When wildlife such as lions killed livestock recently, they did not get away with it. They
were subjected to revenge killings. In one incident as recently confirmed by
Botswana’s former minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Onkokame Kitso
Mokaila, who is now the country’s Ambassador to Washington, four lions were killed
in revenge killings in one day. This presents a graphic contrast of African communities’
attitude to wildlife as long as they do not benefit from it.


Fortunately, it is such a sad scenario of intensified and almost endless human-wildlife
conflict that President Masisi quickly stepped in to defuse in May 2019, when he lifted
the hunting ban. As happened before the ban, the benefits from hunting ‘would make
rural communities co-existing with wildlife begin to tolerate and see value in it as well
as the need to conserve it.'

Although the Ian Khama hunting ban was lifted in May 2019, COVID-19 inevitably
extended it for a further 12 months. This robbed Botswana the long-awaited return to
hunting that current President Masisi brought back following his recent election as
that country’s president. But April 2021 brings a return to hunting. Despite all these
challenges and suffering, Chobe District communities along with other Communities
in Botswana cannot wait to enjoy the restoration of yesteryear benefits from wildlife
through hunting.


In a recent interview, the Spokesperson for the Botswana Wildlife Producers
Association and a player in the wildlife industry, Ms Debbie Peake said that hunting
would return to Botswana in April 2021.


“I support President Masisi 100% that elephant hunting must come back as we have
heard him say that on local television station and in different media,” said a resident
of Parakarungu village, Chobe District, Mr David Mbanga.


Mr Mbanga said that the former President Ian Khama imposed a ban on elephant
hunting came as big disappointment because he never consulted us the people.
"Incredible," said Mbanga. "It was like we were dreaming when Ian Kham announced
the ban."


Mr Mbanga said that the elephant-hunting ban literary collapsed the safari hunting
industry with many hunting safari companies having been forced to close down,
including Rann Safaris that operated in Chobe District for many years.


Fortunately, President Masisi quickly came in and restored the hopes Botswana’s
wildlife-rich rural communities such as Chobe District, to once again benefit from
elephant hunting that generates most of the hunting revenue. He lifted the hunting
ban in May 2019.


When elephant hunting starts the residents of Chobe District community said they
would like to ensure that all the four previous hunting areas in the District get
reopened for safari hunting business.


“Now we are planning to ensure that when hunting begins, we should come up with
a negotiated increase of Chobe communities’ share from hunting revenue because
everything has gone up since the ban on elephant hunting in 2014,” said a farmer from
Kachikau Village, Mr Richard Tshekonyane. “Our development wish-list should include
the need to build a butchery and bakery in each village as well as engage in any other
projects that benefit our people.”


One of Chobe District’s most tangible investments made using elephant hunting
revenue was the construction of the upmarket Chobe Enclave Conservation Trust
community lodge that they run jointly with private sector partners.


“The Ngoma Safari Lodge is an excellent investment by the Chobe Enclave Rural
Community,” said one of the Ngoma Safari Lodge managers, Mr Peter Rukuro
Mukamba. “Most of the people from our Community working here were previously
unemployed but now through employment they can send their children to school and
have built homes for their families. Their lives have improved a lot and they are happy.
I am also very happy. Everything is going on well at Ngoma Safari Lodge.”

More lodges could have been built if hunting had continued uninterrupted by the
Khama ban. By now they should be employing more people from the Community. The
Ngoma Safari Lodge is an outstanding example of the benefits of hunting revenue in
the Chobe Enclave Community.


Despite all the suffering during the five-year-long hunting ban, the Chobe District
communities have good evidence that wildlife can build rural economies. It changes
lives for the better. Wildlife produced a community office, milling project, poverty
alleviation projects, community tractor and the Parakarungu shop currently leased out
to a private company. They see it in the hunting revenue- built Ngoma Safari Lodge.
They experience the change through the jobs that the Lodge has created.


They say the future looks bright as hunting returns to Chobe and countrywide. They
hope to earn bigger revenue from the now generally monster-sized elephant, buffalo
and lion trophies to be hunted in 2021, grown to monstrous sizes by the five-year
hunting ban, to which COVID-19 added one more year. In Chobe Community, they
know that wildlife can bring many things on their development wish list. Wildlife
hunting revenue can build a community hospital, buy an ambulance and build petrol
stations.


In fact, hunting could even start in January 2021, according to Ms Peake who said that
there was no chance for hunting to start in December 2020; following the lifting of the
COVID-19 travel bans.


“Our season [hunting] starts in April 2021,” said Ms Peake. “We are trying to get
authorities to think about opening in January 2021 to make the most of the wet season
area elephant.”

 

The return of hunting to Botswana is a new year’s present worth celebrating, not only
in Chobe District but in all hunting communities in the wildlife-rich country

Evidence of elephant infrastructural damage

This is elephant country

Ms Claudia Nchungu  knows the Chobe good and bad times

Chobe elephants at waterhole

 

 

 

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