The Sankuyo Tshwaragano Management Trust, which has rights over the NG 33 and NG 34 concessions in the vicinity of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, is not planning to lobby the government to lift a hunting ban, Trust Chairman Galesengwe Haku told Tourism Update this week.

Earlier this month, Tourism Update reported that communities in Botswana would lobby the government to exempt elephants and buffaloes from a hunting ban imposed in 2014. Haku said the community was not part of this group as it had converted its management plan into a non-consumptive tourism management plan and was looking to develop its concessions to offer photographic safaris.

However, the community has been unable to earn revenue from leasing part of the NG 34 concession because of delays in finalising a lease agreement.

Haku explained that when the land was used for hunting, before the ban the community earned roughly P2.7 million annually from hunting revenue. According to him, there is an investor looking to develop a photographic safari operation in the NG 34 concession, which is currently vacant, but the lease has yet to be finalised because of delays.

The process by which leases for concessions are allocated is currently being changed. One operator, who wished to remain anonymous, explained that the allocation of leases was being moved away from the land boards. A Land Bank is to be established, which will be administered by Botswana Tourism. The operator said the change was taking time to implement and in the interim existing leases were being rolled over for a year at a time, while there were delays in allocating new leases.

Ian Michler, of Invent Africa Safaris, who is also an environmental journalist and part of the team behind the Blood Lions documentary, points out that the NG 34 concession is part of a vital corridor linking the Okavango wetland system to the drier parts of the Savute and Chobe woodland. He says this location makes it perfectly suited for a multi-camp photographic concession. “There is great potential here and under a well-managed regime, the concession fees, bed-night levies and turnover royalties could easily way surpass anything hunting generated.”

Michler also argues that photographic concessions offer significantly better benefits over time when compared with hunting concessions. “In almost all cases, photographic lodges run year-round operations and they employ significantly greater numbers of people under conditions that offer a host of career opportunities.” Moreover, he says due to the greater number of clients, the trickle-down economic benefits to the wider economy are substantially greater. “Northern Botswana has achieved remarkable growth over the past two decades, a situation that is attributed almost entirely to the growth of the photographic tourism industry.”

Commenting on the delay in awarding new leases, Michler said: “This transition process will take time and it is naïve to think there will not be bureaucratic delays and some political infighting.” He added that in stopping all trophy hunting, the Botswana government had taken a “visionary step”. “However, introducing such significant change requires all stakeholders, whether from the government, private sector, NGO sector or communities, to embrace the political, legislative, administrative and environmental shifts needed.

“Right now, there also seems to be some obstruction from reactionary quarters wanting to derail the change.”

Tourism Update is increasing its coverage of destinations outside South Africa. Do you have news in Botswana? Send your news to editor@tourismupdate.co.za.

Tessa Reed, Boniface Keakabetse