Europeans care more about elephants than people, says Botswana president

Estimated read time 3 min read

Many Europeans value the lives of elephants more than those of the people who live around them, the president of Botswana has said, amid tensions over potential trophy hunting import bans.

Botswana recently threatened to send 30,000 elephants to the UK and Germany after both countries proposed stricter controls on hunting trophies. The country’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, said it would help people to understand human-wildlife conflict – which is among the primary threats to the species – including the experiences of subsistence farmers affected by crop-raiding by the animals.

Speaking to the Guardian on Wednesday, Masisi said: “I get the sense that they [Europeans] think these elephants are pets. I get the sense that many think these elephants are human beings, and a majority would perceive the value of these elephants as superior to human life in Botswana.

“Why don’t you for a moment experience living with them? That’s why this offer was made to yourselves to have them in Hyde Park,” he said.

Masisi’s comments come amid heightened tensions between anti-trophy activists in Europe and Africa and those who say that regulated hunting is helpful for elephant conservation in some cases: allowing tourists to kill a small number of animals for thousands of dollars can provide livelihoods for local people and ensure habitats are not converted for agriculture.

The UK government has committed to delivering a ban on the import of hunting trophies. A ban almost passed last year but was scuppered in the Lords after it had passed all Commons stages.

The remains of a poached elephant, Botswana.View image in fullscreen

While trophy hunting has provoked widespread revulsion from the British public and celebrity campaigners, using it as part of broader conservation strategies has been shown to help wildlife and tackle poaching. Masisi said Botswana, home of the world’s largest elephant population, allowed trophy hunting by democratic choice and said European countries telling his country how to manage its elephant population should provide alternatives to hunting.

“We are only human beings. Those Europeans, if they lived among elephants like we do, they would respond exactly the same way. Perhaps they might be more brutal, because they have a much stronger gun culture than we do,” he said.

Human-wildlife conflict is on the rise in many parts of Africa, and threatening some species with extinction. Dozens of people are thought to be killed by elephants every year across the continent, with thousands of instances of crop-raiding and other forms of conflict.

“Imagine … you try to gather your goats at night, when you stumble upon an elephant and it charges. You cannot outrun an elephant,” he said. “You get squashed like when you squash potato when you mash it. I’m trying to use an expression so those who eat fish and chips or mashed potatoes might understand. It’s pretty dreary,” Masisi said.

Masisi said he hoped that celebrity anti-trophy campaigners would spend time with communities affected by human-wildlife conflict to properly understand the problems elephants can cause.

“I’m not faulting them for being famous and being celebrities. We respect them, we love them. But not at the expense of our lives.”

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on X for all the latest news and features


You May Also Like

More From Author