Human-widlife conflict stops agriculture where hunting brings hope
Emmanuel Koro, Feature
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 socio-economic 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 life-style. 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.
Elephant herds and big cats frequently move into the Community as they wish, destroying crops, houses and sometimes killing people. They drink most of the water from boreholes and wells, leaving very little or nothing for the local residents and their livestock. No wonder why the Chobe Enclave Community has also become gripped with these attacks.
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 experienced the past 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 totally abandoned agriculture production 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 existed 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 elephants 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 of 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 can not 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 percent 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 the people.
“Shocking,” said Mbanga. “It was like we were having a bad dream when Ian Khama 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, build petrol stations and bring much more needed developments.
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 hunting season 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.
About the writer: Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based international award-winning independent environmental journalist who writes extensively on environment and development issues in Africa.