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Botswana lifts ban on elephant hunting

Nature: Elephants

Botswana has lifted a ban on elephant hunting that has been in place since 2014. The government said the growing conflict between humans and animals, and the destruction of crops, lead to the ban being lifted.

Botswana is home to the world's largest population of elephants – with some 130,000 roaming the country. Critics of the ban believe it was causing problems for small farmers and others who benefited from hunting before the ban was imposed.

Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi created a committee to review the ban last June. That committee recommended the country allow hunting again, and he accepted the ruling.

"The number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing," the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said in a statement.

"Predators appear to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers," the statement continued. The statement ensured that the "re-instatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner."

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One long-time wildlife conservationist in Africa told CBS News on Thursday that there may be more domestic politics behind the Botswana government's decision than anything else. Dropping the ban could shore-up Masisi's popularity in rural areas, as many farmers view the elephants as pests.

Masisi has made reversed many laws passed by the previous administration, which banned elephant hunting. 

Research shows that elephants' range of travel is expanding due in part to climate change, BBC News reports. They can be very destructive when they roam onto farmland and into villages, and can destroy crops and even kill people. 

The latest survey of wildlife shows what residents of Botswana's rural areas suspected to be true – the number of elephants is increasing. 

Lifting the ban could damage the country's international reputation for conservation, BBC News note, and tourism revenues, which are the second largest source of foreign income for the country, could suffer.

Hunting "integral part" of conservation?

Meanwhile, Dr. Timothy Wittig, a wildlife trafficking expert and conservation scientist with the Basel Institute on Governance, told CBS News on Thursday that legal, well-managed hunting is not necessarily as harmful to the protection of vulnerable species as some people might think.

"Effective wildlife conservation is a mix of hard protection of wildlife and habitat, as well as science-based sustainable use of nature," Wittig told CBS News on Thursday. "Many consider hunting, if done legally and within a science-based framework of sustainable use, to be an integral part of the latter."

Wittig noted that the "human-wildlife conflict" cited by Botswana's government on Thursday is in fact "an important driver of involvement in poaching and wildlife trafficking. People living close to wildlife must feel they have a stake in protecting it."

"Organized criminal networks often prey on people in communities with unresolved human-wildlife conflict, offering them easy money to get involved in poaching or wildlife trafficking," Wittig said.

There are about 415,000 elephants in Africa, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The population took a hit, due mainly to poaching for ivory. While international campaigns to ban ivory sales have helped curb illegal poaching, there is disagreement over how to prevent destructive elephant populations from encroaching on humans.