Botswana president condemns British MP over smear campaign

The Government of Botswana has formally condemned British MP Sir Roger Gale for his attack on Botswana’s president. As reported in Fieldsports News, in an online video on the animal rights Mojostreaming channel, Gale called Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi a corrupt vandal and claimed his actions led to ‘murder’.

In a press release issued by the office of the president, deputy permanent secretary (government communications) William Kemotho Sentshebeng says Gale’s attack is ‘a veiled attack on the Botswana State’. In a thorough rejection of Gale’s accusations, Sentshebeng writes: ‘Such a frivolous, irresponsible and emotive use of language to attack the integrity of the Botswana Government’s sovereign decision­making, is an act of deliberate abuse of the power of mass communication to hide the real special interests of photojournalism behind the disinformation.’

Gale’s online debate with Jens-Ulrik Høgh from Nordic Safari Club centred on a series of allegations he made against hunting tourism and wildlife conservation in Africa, as well as personal attacks on Høgh.

Three fact-checkers have found most of Gale’s assertions are wrong, backing up the Botswanan president’s allegation that the MP is peddling ‘falsehoods’ in order to push through a ban on the import of hunting trophies, now dropped by the Westminster government. Wildlife consultants Austin Farley and Mathen Mathew, and Trevor Oertel of Sustainable Use Coalition of Southern Africa (SUCo-SA) checked the figures and facts that Gale put forward during the debate.

Among them, Gale alleges that the Botswana government lifted a hunting ban in Botswana because of Masisi’s commercial investment in trophy hunting. Gale described Masisi’s action as ‘political vandalism’ and he went on to call hunting ‘murder’. The Botswana government says it lifted its ban in order to address an increase in human wildlife conflict and a loss of revenue from communities affected by the ban.

The fact-checkers find no evidence that President Masisi has commercial ties to trophy hunting. In their report, they add: ‘The same can’t be said of [former] President Khama and photographic tourism. The ban was introduced by Ian Khama unilaterally without any Parliamentary due process or community involvement. President Masisi on the other hand consulted widely throughout the country with the communities before lifting the bans.’

Among other mistakes in Gale’s evidence against hunting, he puts forward statistics which appear to show that hunting tourism is driving some wildlife populations to extinction.

The video on the Mojostreaming website – only available on some browsers:​

In the video, Gale asserts that the lion populations stands at 10,000 today. Farley, Mathew and Oertel find that the current lion population stands between 20,000 and 32,000. Tanzania, which hosts the largest lion population in the world, has a population of between 8,000 and 16,000 lions according to recent studies done in the country. The IUCN Red List estimates a wild population of between 23,000 to 39,000. According to the joint CITES, CMI, IUCN lion web portal, over the last 21 years, the lion populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have increased by about 12%. Along with Tanzania, all of these wildlife success stories are in nations that promote hunting tourism.

Gale says that communities which support hunting tourism are artificial and fake creations of pro-hunting organisations such as Safari Club International. African community organisations have written letters to the EU and to the Westminster Parliament with pleas to stop campaigning against hunting as a conservation tool. They include the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organizations, Community Based Natural Resource Management, Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) in Zimbabwe, the Trust for Okavango Cultural and Development Initiatives (TOCaDI ) in Botswana, the Kasungu Wildlife Conservation Association in Malawi, the Community Land Initiative in Mozambique, the Makuleke Communal Property Association in South Africa, and the Zambia National CBNRM Forum in Zambia. They deny they are fake organisations.

Gale claims that, if hunting tourism continues, there will be no animals left. The factcheckers find that offtake quotas given for various species vary between less than 1% to 5% of the total national population of a species. Birth rates are higher than these offtakes and therefore hunting tourism will not be the deciding factor on whether or not wildlife goes extinct. “Habitat destruction, poaching, and climate change are the factors that will,” report the factcheckers.

Gale says that in Kenya, which banned hunting tourism in 1977, the lion population is recovering and Kenya is the only country in Africa where lion populations are increasing. Gale may be referring to the Kenyan government’s 2020 figure of 2,489 lions, which the Born Free Foundation claims is a 489 rise on the 2020 figure for the country of 2,000 lions. The Kenyan government points out that its figure is an estimate not a count and adds that previous estimates were more inaccurate. According to the factcheckers, “Gale omits the fact that, since the 1977 hunting ban, Kenya has witnessed a 70-75% decline in its megafauna population, which includes lions, elephants, and rhinos. Only recently, have populations of these species begun to recover within the boundaries of a few national parks. Wildlife populations continue to decline in Kenya outside of protected areas. According to the IUCN, lion populations in the past 20 years have increased in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and in some regards, Benin. All of these countries allow lion hunting.”

Gale believes that hunting tourism is a front for poaching. He ignores the effective anti-poaching efforts in Africa run by hunting outfitters. In one example, the Dande North Safari Area in Zimbabwe, operated by Charlton McCallum Safaris, has shown a 97.5% decline in elephant poaching from 40 elephants poached in the area in 2010 to only one elephant poached in 2021. This is due to the Dande Anti-Poaching Unit (DAPU) which is funded by hunting tourism.

Gale asserts that cash generated by phototourism can replace cash generated by hunting tourism. A report from South Africa’s  Timbavati Game Reserve into how the reserve is financed shows that in the year 2016, 46 hunters generated more revenue than 24,000 photographic tourists. The hunters generating 61% of the revenue whereas the photographic tourists only generated 17% of the revenue. With conservation levies raised in 2018, making photographic tourism more expensive within the reserve, 21,000 photographic tourists generated 51% of the revenue whereas 21 hunters generated 30% of the revenue. The fact-checkers point out that, in order to replace the 46 hunters in 2016 fully with photographic tourism, 72,000 tourists in one year would have been necessary. They say: “It is very clear to see that hunting has a vastly smaller carbon footprint and lower natural resource use than photographic tourism.”

Sentshebeng says: “While Sir Gale [sic] ls entitled to his opinions on conservation strategies, and is decidedly against the practice of controlled hunting, he does not have license to go on the rampage with disinformation aimed at undermining Botswana’s very pragmatic, and sustainable conservation policy and practices. The truth about Botswana shall not give way to falsehoods.”

He concludes: “The Government of Botswana wishes to strongly condemn anyone who trivialises the concerns about wildlife and natural resources conservation, and the promoting sustainable livelihoods of communities in Botswana, through peddling falsehoods regarding the choices that Batswana have made.”

Gale has been campaigning in favour of the Westminster government’s Animals Abroad Bill, which included a ban on trophy imports. The government missed a deadline to introduce the bill, a Tory Party manifesto commitment, in the 2021-2022 session and appears to have dropped it.

Gale holds far-right views, including the forced expulsion of Russians from the UK (following Russia’s attack on Ukraine), opposing same-sex marriage and banning foxhunting. He is a past vice-chairman of the Conservative party.

The full press release from the Botswanan govenment

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