African Elephants Declared Endangered, As Botswana Expands Hunting

Botswana is offering 287 elephant hunting licenses in April at the same time as a species of African elephant has been listed as critically endangered.

Botswana's Department of Wildlife and National Parks wants to ramp up its hunting season after it was disrupted last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 100 licenses are due to be issued as well as a further 187 from last year's season, according to reports.

On Thursday, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported the African forest elephant has been listed as critically endangered and the African savanna elephant has been listed as endangered.

Before the update, both elephant species had been treated as one single species listed as vulnerable. They were then listed separately following new genetic evidence, and are being considered as closer to extinction than before.

Dr. Bruno Oberle, IUCN director general, said in a statement: "We must urgently put an end to poaching and ensure that sufficient suitable habitat for both forest and savanna elephants is conserved.

"Several African countries have led the way in recent years, proving that we can reverse elephant declines, and we must work together to ensure their example can be followed."

The latest assessments note there had been an 86 percent decline in the number of African forest elephants over a period of 31 years, while African savanna elephant numbers have fallen by at least 60 percent over 50 years.

Numbers fell particularly sharply after 2008 due to a "significant increase in poaching which peaked in 2011," the IUCN said.

Despite this, Botswana's hunting season will open on April 6 with licenses to kill 287 elephants as well as zebras, buffaloes, and leopards. Most overseas trophy hunters come from the United States.

Debbie Peake, spokesperson for the Botswana Wildlife Producers Association, told Voice of America: "Botswana operators aim to reinvigorate the controlled hunting program in 2021, ensuring that communities become shareholders in the hunting wildlife economy and not just stakeholders."

The outlet reports the government of Botswana held auctions for licenses to kill elephants in February last year, with the cost for one elephant as much as $43,000.

Up until 2019 there was a ban on trophy hunting that had been imposed by Botswana's then-president Ian Khama in 2014 due to declining wildlife numbers.

This was lifted by current president Mokgweetsi Masisi. In 2019 there were reports elephants had increased their territory and were coming into contact with humans.

Between August 2018 and 2019, 17 people were killed by elephants across Botswana, NPR reported, citing the government.

Botswana is home to more than 130,000 elephants, according to the African Wildlife Foundation—more than any other country in the world.

Elephant eating
A stock image shows an elephant eating with its trunk in the wild. Botswana is home to the biggest elephant population in the world. ArishaRay/iStock