Botswana mulls turning elephants into pet food

Country also considering lifting hunting ban

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Botswana should lift its four-year ban on big game hunting and also allow the canning of elephant meat for pet food, Cabinet ministers in the southern African nation have recommended.

Botswana, home to nearly 130,000 elephants, is one of the most popular tourist destinations for wildlife lovers who want to glimpse the animals. But tension over the elephant population has grown, with some arguing they damage crops.

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who took office last year, had asked the committee to re-examine the hunting ban, which was introduced in 2014. The panel's suggestions now will be examined further, he said.

"I can promise you and the nation that we will consider it. A white paper will follow and it will be shared with the public," Masisi told the BBC Thursday.

"If needs be, we will give an opportunity to Parliament to also interrogate it and also allow them the space to intervene before we make a final determination," he said.

Among the proposals contained in the report are:

• Ending the hunting ban

• Allowing regular but limited elephant culling

• Establishing elephant meat canning, including production of pet food and processing into other by-products

• Developing a legal framework to enable the safari hunting industry to expand

• Managing the elephant population within its historic range

• Erecting human-wildlife conflict fences in key hotspots

• Demarcating game ranches to serve as buffers between communal and wildlife areas.

Other southern African nations allow big game hunting under license, and proponents of regulated hunting argue it can help conservation efforts by channeling money to local communities and further conservation efforts.

'Unprecedented levels of poaching'

Poaching in Botswana has reached an "unprecedented" level, a study by the conservation charity Elephants Without Borders revealed in September.

Almost 90 elephant carcasses were found during a survey in the north of the country, compared with nine during the previous audit of the region in 2014, it found. The study was largely funded by Botswana's Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Before European colonization, Africa may have been home to as many as 20 million elephants, scientists say. But only 1.3 million remained by 1979.

And the population has waned even more. The first Great Elephant Census, a pan-African survey of the continent's savanna elephants, revealed in 2016 that from 2007 to 2014, elephant numbers had plummeted by at least 30%, or 144,000 animals.

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