Botswana auctions off permits to hunt elephants

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Media caption,

How would re-introducing elephant hunting affect communities and the economy in Botswana?

Botswana held its first auctions for the right to hunt elephants since lifting a ban last year.

The country has some 130,000 elephants, the largest population in the world.

The government sold seven hunting licences on Friday, with each allowing hunters to kill 10 elephants in "controlled hunting areas".

Officials revoked a 2014 ban in May, saying human-elephant conflict and the negative impact on livelihoods was increasing.

The lifting of the ban has been popular with many in rural communities, but has been heavily criticised by conservationists.

How did the auctions work?

Seven packages of 10 elephants each were sold at the auction in the capital Gaborone on Friday afternoon, the BBC's Southern Africa correspondent Nomsa Maseko reports.

Only companies registered in Botswana were allowed to bid for the licences. Bidders put down a refundable deposit of 200,000 pula ($18,000; £14,000).

The government has issued a quota for the killing of 272 elephants in 2020.

The hunting would help areas most impacted by "human wildlife conflict", wildlife spokeswoman Alice Mmolawa told AFP news agency.

Why was the ban reversed?

Many rural communities believe a return to commercial hunting will help keep the elephant population away from their villages, and also bring in much-needed income in places not suitable for high-end tourism.

But critics fear it could also drive away luxury-safari goers who are opposed to hunting.

Audrey Delsink, Africa's wildlife director for the global conservation lobby charity Humane Society International, called the auctions "deeply concerning and questionable".

"Hunting is not an effective long-term human-elephant mitigation tool or population control method," she told AFP.

Ross Harvey, an environmental economist in South Africa, told the BBC: "There is no scientific evidence to support the view of there being too many elephants.

"We know that Botswana's elephant numbers haven't actually increased over the last five years, we have a stable population. Elephants are critical to Botswana's ecology."

President Mokgweetsi Masisi's predecessor Ian Khama introduced the ban in 2014 to reverse a decline in the population of wild animals.

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