20,000 Elephants

By Gayne C. Young

Everybody loves to play armchair quarterback.

It’s easy to tell other people what they should be doing without knowing a damn thing about the subject. I see this attitude in people screaming at the sporting events they watch on TV, ragging on businesses they visit, dismissing the politicians they didn’t elect, and in the world of outdoor conservation. The latest example of the latter came courtesy of Steffi Lemke, Germany’s Minister of the Environment and Green Party member. Lemke recently raised the possibility of imposing stricter limits on the import of hunting trophies, especially elephants, from Botswana. She stated that she believed this would help reduce poaching concerns.

Armchair quarterback.

Lemke knows not of what she speaks.

She’s mixing apples and oranges here or rather hunting and poaching.

Hunters follow the law. When they kill an animal, they do so after purchasing a license. Likewise, when they import the remains of that animal to their home, they also adhere to the legal requirements. Poachers, by definition, are those who break the law in regard to taking an animal. They do not purchase a license before killing an animal nor do they follow the law when trying to get the remains to their final destination. Lowering the number of legally taken elephants hunters may bring back home to Germany does absolutely nothing to stop poaching. Restrictions such as the one she suggested only serve to punish those that follow the law.

Not only does Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi understand this but he also has issue with Lemke telling the world what he and his country should be doing for elephant conservation. Masisi said in a statement, “It is very easy to sit in Berlin and have an opinion about our affairs in Botswana. We are paying the price for preserving these animals for the world—and even for Lemke’s party.”

Masisi is referring to the damage Botswana’s estimated 130,000 elephants are inflicting upon the country. He said that the overpopulated pachyderm species were trampling people to death and destroying crops and villages. He said that allowing the hunting of these animals is the only thing that keeps them in check. Masisi doubled down by saying that Botswana does more to protect elephants “than any other country in the world.” He then suggested that Germany could help with elephant conservation by taking a few.

The president offered Germany the gift of 20,000 elephants. “This is no joke. We would like to offer such a gift to Germany,” Masisi said before adding that Germany should “live together with the animals, in the way you are trying to tell us to.”

This, of course, isn’t the first time Botswana has made the offer of elephants to other countries. In an effort to curb the population in his own country he has gifted 8,000 elephants to neighboring Angola, and another 500 to Mozambique, as a means of bringing the population down.

Germany, although it has yet to issue an official response, will most likely – ok, definitely – not be accepting the elephants. Rather their politicians will continue to play armchair quarterback by telling Botswana how to better do what they do best—protect wildlife.

I must admit that I didn’t quite understand just how destructive and deadly elephants could be until I visited Botswana in 2013. I was writing about their last elephant hunting season (hunting for elephants was paused in country from 2014 until 2019) and followed a couple for the last hunt of the season. In that week-and-a-half period, I saw hundreds of elephants in their native habitat. That landscape looked like the surface of the moon. It had been ravaged, literally stripped to almost nothing, by the largest of land animals. Unlike most other wildlife, elephants will completely destroy a habitat by feeding upon it. They uproot vegetation, push over trees, and rip the bark from them, and compact the soil so little can grow. They also kill people. During the time I was in Botswana, several people including a PH were killed by elephants. Based on my observations, I totally agree with President Masisi, Steffi Lemke doesn’t understand what she is talking about.

But having 20,000 elephants in her backyard might change that.

From the FE Films Archive

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