Botswana has lifted its ban on elephant hunting in a country with the world’s highest number of the animals, a decision that has brought anger from some wildlife protection groups.
The southern African nation is home to an estimated 130,000 elephants. The lifting of the ban raised concerns about a possible increase in illegal poaching of elephants for their tusks to supply the ivory trade.
“Expect mass culling next,” the CEO of WildlifeDirect, Paula Kahumbu, said in a post on Twitter, adding that the impact of Botswana’s decision will be felt across Africa.
Botswana has long been a refuge for elephants on a continent where tens of thousands have been killed over the years for their ivory.
The decision to lift the hunting ban comes amid growing conflicts between humans — particularly farmers — and elephants, the Botswana government’s statement said. It said hunting will resume “in an orderly and ethical manner” but does not say how it will be regulated.
The country, with a population of just over 2 million people, suffers some human-wildlife conflict but has more space than many other countries for animals to roam.
The elephant hunting ban was put in place under previous president Ian Khama but current President Mokgweeti Masisi began to look into it not long after taking office last year. The decision to lift the ban comes months ahead of general elections in October.
“This is a political move and not in the best interests of conservation in Botswana,” Jason Bell, vice president for conservation with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a statement on Thursday.
Botswana is among several African countries with some of the world’s largest elephant populations that have pushed for looser controls on legal ivory trade. They assert that commerce will help them pay to conserve elephants, while critics assert that even limited trade fuels demand and drives up illegal killing.
Botswana and neighboring Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are estimated to have about 256,000 elephants, or more than half of the total estimate for Africa.