efe-epaJohannesburg

Botswana, the country with the largest population of elephants in the world, has lifted a ban on hunting these animals within its territory, the government said.

The decision, which is likely to trigger outrage among conservationists, was adopted as the numbers of elephants increased to the point where farmers' livelihoods were being badly affected, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism said in a statement released late Wednesday.

"The number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing," the ministry said, adding the "general consensus from those consulted was that the hunting ban should be lifted."

The prohibition had been introduced in 2014 by then-president and keen environmentalist, Ian Khama, whose government ran from 2008-2018.

The statement outlined several reasons for ending the hunting veto but did not explicitly mention that the move would be popular with rural voters ahead of an election due in October.

Khama was among critics who said the initiative was organized to win rural votes in the election and could badly affect tourism, which accounts for around 20 percent of the country's economy.

Only diamond mining contributes more to the country's treasury thanks in large measure to Jwaneng, the richest diamond mine in the world.

Having weighed the pros and cons of lifting the ban and consulted widely, the ministry said it had arrived at the conclusion that it would remove the ban "in an orderly and ethical manner."

The ministry said that during the consultation process, which began in Feb., two main opinions on had emerged.

"There developed two schools of thought with some of the view that if hunting was re-instated, communities would support conservation as they realize the potential value and associated income to be derived from wildlife resources and related activities; and as a result, the annual population would increase," the statement said.

The consultation involved communities affected by the increase of the number of elephants, local authorities, NGOs, tourism companies, researchers and conservationists, among others, the ministry said.

With more than 135,000 specimens, Botswana has the highest population density of elephants in the world.

The current President Mokgweetsi Masisi has not supported the protection of these animals despite the fact that luxury safari tourism brings in revenues to the African country.

At the beginning of May, Masisi hosted a forum with Botswana's neighboring countries, a group of nations that combined is home to two-thirds of the estimated 400,000 elephants on the continent.

He also made a call to end the international ban on ivory trade.

In the first half of the 20th century, there were more than three million elephants in the region, according to data from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

In less than a century, the total elephant population now stands at 13 percent of that WWF estimate.

The Botswana Wildlife Producers Association, made up of ranchers who produce game for hunting, welcomed the decision.

“Conservation of our species is paramount, but communities’ rights and livelihoods are as important as the species itself,” spokeswoman Debbie Peak said. EFE-EPA

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